From songs to sponsorships: the work & dedication of women’s Active Supporters.

The role of separate women’s active support is vital for the game in Australia. Impetus’ Kieran Yap looked at what they bring to the sport, and the work that they do. All groups are referred to by their collective name where possible for the purposes of this article (10/3/23).

By Kieran Yap

Above: The Victory Vikings with their favourite player Amy Jackson. Photo: Victory Vikings.

They are the among the first to arrive at the stadium. Banners are hoisted, drums are set up and the noise begins almost immediately. After the game, win or lose, they are the last to leave. The Active Support groups in Australian women’s football are small in numbers, but huge on enthusiasm, organisation and dedication.

While some clubs like Sydney FC and Adelaide United have actives that commit to both the men’s and women’s side. Others have separate groups focused entirely on the women’s game.

It has been a tense year for all supporters in the Australian domestic competition. Women’s football groups have not been forgotten exactly, but their smaller numbers have left them on the periphery in the eyes of some.

There remains a misconception that the size of the movement determines its worth. But the separate women’s active groups in the A-League Women are more than a small group of friends who meet up on match day. Their work starts days before kick off, and does not stop in between seasons.

Each has a different impact on their club and the league, and all have varied histories. But they all have the same fanatical commitment.

“Matches had started to be played in Suncorp Stadium which is a great venue unless you only have a couple of thousand people turning up,” say Brisbane Roar’s Active group, the Roar Corps of their origins.

“Mel Andreatta was coaching, Amy Chapman was playing, and they connected with fans who wanted the venue to seem livelier. Amy Chapman had a big part in introducing Mandy Jamieson to Mel Andreatta and then Chris McAlister who was very involved with the Roar Supporter’s Federation.

“Amy and Mandy had had several conversations about the lack of atmosphere at women’s games, amongst other ongoing issues with pay and conditions, being treated like second-class citizens etc.

“Mandy met with Mel first, they included Chris, which then lead to a larger gathering at Ballymore where an invite was put out to all our female football-loving friends and the wider Roar-supporting community.

“That day Mel inspired everyone with her passion for the team and many ideas on how to support the team and connect with the community were recorded.  A smaller subset of people continued to meet, and the core of the supporter’s group and the name were established.”

The Roar Corps are constantly in party mode at every Brisbane home game. Although the fortunes of their team has varied over the seasons, they drum and sing through the heat, the rain, the big wins, and the occasional big loss.

Like all supporters of women’s football, they are advocates as much as fans. Banners and songs are used to help push the game in a positive direction. During a recent league match with Melbourne Victory, they sang to the APL who decided against delaying a 3pm kick-off.

“Feeling Hot-Hot-Hot…APL” rang out from the stands as the players and fans suffered through the humid and oven-like conditions.

The work of women’s actives goes beyond game day. Australian football is a difficult place to find merchandise for the women’s league, and The Roar Corps fill that gap with their own merchandise that they sell to fund the banners, megaphones, and drum kits.

“You can always count on the Roar Corps”

The growth of the game and support of the players is as important to the Roar Corps as results on the field. In a semi-professional sport, they help out in any way that they can.

“Advocacy and the quest for basic professionalism are a big part of the Roar Corps’ initial motivation.

“We have helped with accommodation for international or interstate players; donating washing machines and other equipment. We organised vehicles and transport, out-of-pocket costs just to provide some of the basics so the team could have supplies they were lacking and performed general managerial tasks to help lift the standards for the players.

“In early seasons we organized the season launch events to generate some excitement for the team and allow fans to meet the players.

“We have coordinated guest speaker panels, support videos, fundraising for causes close to the team, such as Share the Dignity for the 2018-19 season launch. We have helped other fund-raising events like the fund-raiser for Stotty (Rebekah Stott) driven by Olivia Chance, and the Christmas toy drive organized by the club and RSF.

“A few times we have arranged a ‘sponsor a player’ event, where fans can purchase merchandise to present to players. Anyone who has played for the Roar for a few seasons will have shirts, hoodies and a cap to show for these events.

“To plan for a specific game involves posting to social media, organizing entry to venues to set up banners and allow for drums and megaphones. This can be easy or complicated depending on the venue, and over time we have developed relationships with club staff who support our endeavours.”

Thier efforts have been greatly appreciated by the players. Brisbane striker Shea Connors felt a connection with the fans before she even stepped foot on the pitch.

The Roar Corps like most actives celebrate a new signing with a welcome post on social media, Connors says she felt welcomed before even meeting them. On game day, the players directly benefit from the presence of Active Support.

“It’s huge, its massive,” says Connors. “It brings energy, it makes you feel really supported which is obviously really helpful. “This year has been a tough year with the 2pm kickoff’s and everything. They’ve made signs about and they’re there no matter what.

“Their support lifts us and brings energy that everybody needs every game, especially when we’re playing in hot weather. It definitely keeps you going.

“It’s really nice that these people care every week, and at every home game to come out no matter what, not matter the condition. We’ve changed fields a few times and they’re still there, they’re always there. No matter what, you can always count on the Roar Corps.”

This sort of close relationship with players can be found across the A-League Women. Two of the league’s newest sides, Wellington Pheonix and The Western Core have directly sponsored senior players in the squad.

Ideally, football should not in the position where players need this help, but while they push for change, they are also willing to put their own money where their mouth is.

The work of women’s support groups is not keyboard activism or demanding something impossible of the APL. They open their own wallets and give up their own time to show what needs to be done.

“We’d always wanted to do something tangible to show support for the women’s team,” says The Little Corner of Yellow.

“We’d contacted the club to see if we could sponsor a tiny logo somewhere on the kit, but all the available spots had been taken up already. The club was exploring player sponsorships, so we asked if we could do that instead and started the process.”

The Little Corner of Yellow are an Australian based group that support the Wellington Phoenix teams. Their support of both sides was extremely valuable during the COVID hit season when their players were kept far from home. That has not stopped since, with The Little Corner sponsoring the club captain and goalkeeper Lily Alfeld.

“We’d gotten to know Lily during the first season, if you’ve ever spoken to her, you’ll know why people are prepared to run through walls for her!

“So, she was our first pick for sponsorship. We have also since sponsored Izzy Gomez and Michaela Robertson.”

The Little Corner’s support goes beyond their own club. They supply wooden commemorative plaques to players and fans across to league as tributes to significant games, or individual highlights.

“We’re more than just three friends”

The Victory Vikings formed after the 2019 World Cup in France. Travelling fans were not perturbed by the Matildas’ elimination and decided to form an active group for Melbourne Victory’s women’s team for the following season

“It was a cold summer’s night in Le Havre on 26th June when we were born,” reflect the Vikings.

“Most of us were in France for the World Cup and just happened to meet each other and discover we’d been going to dub games independently for a while so decided to form a group so people could attend games together.”

Victory are one of the bigger clubs in the league. Although a number of fans attend both matches, the Active Supports are separate entities. The sizable men’s fans have been encouraged to attend, but they do so sporadically.

When they turn up, they look impressive on camera and social media, but The Vikings are valued by other A-League Women’s fans and players. They are there at every home game, along with many away ones.

Statistics on player milestones are often first announced by The Vikings. They keep track of how many games individuals have played and have been contacted by the players themselves to see how far off they are from 100 appearances. On game day they post instant live match updates, a public service extended to cover the Afghanistan Womens National Team in the off-season.

“Contrary to what some may think we’re more than just three friends. Active support in Woso is more about community and less about making noise.

“Our primary goal is to boost the profile of the team and encourage people to come and attend games by promoting a safe and inclusive environment. We honestly don’t care if the people who hang out with us make noise or not.

“We just care that they’re there. We want people to know that if they’re thinking of coming to a game but maybe are by themselves so are unsure that there’s a group of likeminded people who they can sit with.

“They can choose not to interact with us, which is fine, they can choose not to make any noise which is also fine, but they will be welcome, nevertheless.

“We do our best to try and help any of our players that want to boost their profile. Also, we are active right through the week and support the team all year round (during NPL season we try and get round to watch as many of them as possible).

“We invest a lot of our own money in supporting the team and not just time. We also have a great relationship with all the other active groups and try and do what we can to help them grow as well because the more active groups the better.

“We also exist to be a voice for people who don’t have one or feel they can’t say what they want in public. Each season we pick a charity to support and make a donation at season’s end. We link it to specific outcomes over the season, like clean sheets.

“Lots of fans will come to us as a first port of call for information on ticketing etc. or if they want us to pass some feedback onto the club. During the offseason, we tried to get to as many of the Afghanistan team games as often as we could and provided live updates when very few others were.”

You can easily spot the Victory Vikings, by their loud drumming and banners that have become hashtags. “Extend the season” was displayed behind the goals in every game of the last two seasons. When that step was finally announced by the APL, the Vikings added “Full Time, Fully Professional.” Progress never stops.

They are also distinctive with the presence of Homer Simpson in the stands. The large stuffed doll wears a Viking helmet that is sometimes borrowed by the players. When Victory won their way into the Grand Final in 2022, striker Maja Markovski hoisted it in the air like a trophy while the team cheered.

“We’re all massive Simpsons nerds for a start so prior to the first game of the 2021/22 season again Brisbane at CB Smith Reserve one of us decided on a whim to take the Homer he’d been given by his nephew for Christmas to the game where the first player he met was Amy ‘El Presidente’ Jackson.

“Several weeks later a few of us went up to the gold coast for the return game against Brisbane but we didn’t take Homer so El Presidente asked where he was.

“We replied she needn’t worry as some of us were planning to drive to Adelaide the following week and we’d take Homer with us. We received a presidential order to provide regular updates of Homer’s trip, which as good citizens we duly did.

“This along with the rest of the squad also very quickly buying into us having Homer it escalated very quickly.”

The build-up to match day starts early in the week for The Vikings. Sometimes right after the previous match.

“Usually, it starts with us working out what we’re going to put on socials in the buildup to the game. If it’s a home game coordinating what time we’re all going to arrive at the ground, making sure we’ve packed anything extra we need besides the drum, banners, Homer, and Marge.

“Once arriving at the ground, it’s getting stuff cleared by security and then setting up our banners and drums. We keep an eye on our socials for the line-up, and throughout the entire day there’ll be loads of Simpsons references.”

Commemorating the big events

The Vikings are currently eagerly anticipating the 150th match of their favourite player, Grand Final hero Amy Jackson. How they will commemorate this event remains unknown, but they have a template in the Roar Corp who made Matildas legend Clare Polkinghorne’s 150th game a true event.

Players and fans all wore t-shirts for photos after the match. The normally publicity-shy Polkinghorne looked delighted in the spotlight.

“A few things came together to make Polks’ 150th game celebration particularly special,” said The Roar Corp.

“We had over 100 shirts ready to use, so we knew we could make an impact with them. Majella Card organized a design, and we got our hands on a heat press. Then it was a few days of printing and pressing to get them all done.

“We’d posted a form so that people could reserve a shirt ahead of time and, as a result, got the entire team and a good number of supporters kitted out.

“As well as gathering all the tributes received from Clare’s many fans and presenting them to her in a card, seeing the photo with all the players and fans dressed up in the shirt that we made was a special moment.”

Fuelling the Jets

The Newcastle Jets fans have been starved of success on the field. But their women’s active support has never lost enthusiasm. Like others, they operate in constant and ever evolving activism.

“For us, it’s so much more than the game day presence because we know those activities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea,” say the Jets active.  

“The majority of our support for the team and W-Jets fans happens outside of game days – through building a community and platform for fans to connect, interacting with players’ online content as they build their professional profiles, and for advocating for the women’s game more broadly.”

Newcastle is rare in the A-League Women. It is not located in a large capital city, and in a smaller community, in a growing league, their impact is even more important.

“This was really reinforced in a moment towards the end of our first season in 2019/20, when a player’s mother was chatting to us.

“She wanted us to know how important what we were doing was to her daughter but also feeding back sentiments from the whole squad such as “they just value – and really deserve – having a supporter group of their own given what they go through to get to this level.”  

“Actives bring a level of energy to game days that you don’t get otherwise. Dub Actives are uniquely important because we are born from the women’s game and bring an energy that embodies the distinct culture of fans of the women’s game.

“That really lifts the whole experience in the stands. We know the players, we honor their commitment, and we are invested in their performance – you can’t import that.

“There is a fair amount of time and attention that goes into being an Active group, which people probably don’t realize.

“Most of our prep started before the season even kicked off! Once we know our squad, we get stuck into making banners, coming up with player chants, etc. And once we know the fixtures, we map out which away games our group members can get to and booking travel and accommodation. We also liaise closely with the Club to clear our activities.

“In the days leading up to our games (home or away) we make sure people have all the game day info they need. For home games especially, we like to raise awareness a couple of days ahead to try and encourage everyone down to No. 2 Sportsground. On the day, we get in early to set up our corner – visibility to the players is most important to us so we like to have our banners flying by the time they take the pitch to warm up.

“Now that COVID disruptions have eased, we are testing out ideas for ritualizing pre-game meetups again.”

The A-League Women is a league still searching for ways to grow crowds. The Jets Women’s Active support are doing their part to make the matchday experience as welcoming as possible.

“In our experience, ‘game day active’ doesn’t come naturally to Australian crowds, especially when crowds are smaller. It is incredibly hard to get fans to let themselves go and join in with chanting or flag-waving on game days.

“Get to know us! For Dub Actives to have an impact, we need support in ritualizing what we do.

“That relies on visibility and validation of the value Actives can contribute to game day and in building community so that general fans can be proud to be a part of, or just to have a Dub Active group aligned to their club.

“There is definitely a unique experience being a non-capital city club. We do feel the consequences of our club having fewer resources, which affects our competitiveness, plus a smaller population catchment to draw fans from.

“Big variations in fan turnout really makes it hard to gain momentum in building a community and experience around the women’s games at home.

“But being in Newcastle just makes everyone more approachable – club, community, etc., One of the best perks is we have easy access to highly responsive and supportive club staff – at all levels.

“We know that our efforts are valued by the club because they tell us, and if we point out something that could be done better, they make space to listen.”

The new kids are not shy

When Western United joined the league, one of the most obvious signs of promise from the new club was an immediate presence at home games. Their opening match saw the full-season debut of The Western Core, a group formed from supporters of the men’s team, but separate in name and purpose.

“The formation of The Western Core was welcomed by the club with open arms which was incredible and really motivating.

“The idea of the Core itself came about as soon as the licence was given but formally came to life in the early preseason as we wanted to do this properly and not just rush the launch.

“Little things like brainstorming our name, logo, chant videos, social media presence, and all those kinds of things took some time to finalize as we just wanted to get it right.

“Oh, and that banner, I’d love to know how many hours were spent painting and putting that together in time for round one.”

The Western Core worked closely with the club and the Western Services Crew (men’s support) so that there could be consistency across both teams. Sydney FC and Adelaide United have the same active support shared across both clubs, while Victory has completely separate organizations. Both have benefits and drawbacks, but The Core look to have found a good middle ground.

“We have to thank the leadership of the Crew for being so positive about our inclusion and being nothing but supportive of this group being the recognised active end for the A-League Women’s team.

“The Core itself was formed by individuals who are foundation members of the club and members who have shown a very keen interest in the women’s game from day one.

“Most of the people involved are individuals who have committed to supporting the women’s team long before the licence was given.

“A fair few of us actually attended Calder United’s finals games in the past couple of seasons to help support them and get a taste of our future you could say.

“I guess those heavily involved have just overall been very invested in the growth of Western United especially in the space of women’s football so being involved with The Western Core was naturally super easy. The signings the club made also made it really easy to get people excited about the team and the new journey our club has just begun.”

On the field, their team has swept aside almost all opposition, and the Western Core have enjoyed their start to life in women’s football.

“The friendly banter amongst the ALW community is so good. I think getting to know the other actives so quickly was a happy surprise. It is just a fun space to be a part of and so rewarding too.

“I don’t think any of our supporters at Western have yet to feel any hostility or anything of the like so far in the dub which has been phenomenal feedback as no one deserves to feel that way going to a football match and some of us have had those experiences in football before.

“Overall, though, we knew being a part of the ALW community and having an ALW to support was going to be awesome and we knew we were going to love every moment so it’s been everything we hoped it would be and more.”

The link between Western United and their sister club Calder United has given them a strong grassroots support base to grow from. While the club is waiting for its dedicated home ground to be constructed, The Western Core are working to make their presence felt.

“Western are also really trying to promote that sense of pride to be from the West and us die hard’s definitely feel that and that feeling is obviously heightened by playing in the west.

“To add to that, it is amazing to finally have female footballers wearing the black and green at A-League level.

“Our players are legends, they are some of the best people I’ve ever met. Just genuine role models on and off the field and that’s just given us so much more motivation to support them.

“As supporters, it has also been amazing to see the relationship with Calder United grow and how much the club have invested into this partnership. Girls in the west now have that genuine pathway to professional football from such a young age which is pretty damn awesome.

“We’ve spoken to so many people in the crowds, some with kids in Calder jerseys, and have discovered that young footballers are now aware and hoping to play in the NPLW for Calder so that they can be a part of Western United in a playing capacity. How good is that!”

“We don’t want to be overlooked because there are fewer of us”

That sense of community links those within the club and unites supporters across the leagues. Matchday rivalries are often confined to 90 minutes, with fans catching up with each other before and after games. Many Women’s active support groups were born from the Matildas Active Support. The trio of drums that played when Australia defeated Spain in Sydney were from Newcastle, Brisbane, and Melbourne, while the Capo on the megaphone was from Sydney FC’s Cove.

“I have been given the opportunity to meet and become friends with people we adore,” says Bonny from the Victory Vikings.

“People we never would have met if not for our collective love of woso. Any time we get to celebrate a goal together is amazing, Of course Amy’s goal (in the 2022 Grand Final) is highest on the list.

“Active support in woso is more about community and less about noise. Even with Matildas Active Support that’s true.”

It is a sentiment echoed across the league. The Little Corner members enjoy the positive vibes and are beloved in Australian football for their commitment to the game, and not just their own team.

“Women’s active is all about supporting your players, and there’s often good personal relations between the supporters and players. 

“I don’t think I’ve heard anything disparaging about the opposition players or teams and towns. “So far, we’ve enjoyed hanging out with the actives we’ve met (shout out to the Vikings.)”

The Roar Corps reiterate the importance of Women’s Actives. Professional football is still in a precarious state in Australia, and the clubs that do not have separate women’s actives are valuable too.

They have bigger numbers and a louder megaphone to have issued heard. But the women’s game sometimes has different priorities. There is a constant battle for recognition and eternal vigilance for players’ conditions. Their advocacy is near full-time, completely voluntary, and essential to the growth of women’s football.

“We provide more than just atmosphere at the game because the players we are supporting have needed more than that,” say the Roar Corps

“We don’t want to be overlooked because there are fewer of us. We don’t want to be taken for granted for always being there despite some trying times and disappointments along the way. We want to maintain the positive, inclusive environment for which women’s football crowds are famous.”

Artwork: Charlotte Stacey, founder of On Her Side.

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