Football supporters act as the cornerstone for the professional and non-league game in England. Fans of all clubs, regardless of age, disability, gender, race, faith, sexual orientation or any other identifying feature, should feel safe and welcome attending matches.
Kick It Out and the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF) jointly launched the ‘Fans For Diversity’ campaign in March 2014, supported by the Premier League’s fans fund, to help target a number of fan initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion across the professional and non-league game.
Ex-West Ham and Dagenham and Redbridge professional Anwar Uddin was appointed as the FSF’s Diversity and Campaigns Manager and, cutting a long story short, was more than pleased with helping to offer funding support to help refurbish an old part of Brisbane Road to use as a welcoming space for potential new supporters as part of the Fans For Diversity campaign.
The club hopes the redeveloped space at the ground, the old player’s bar and lounge in the east stand, (now to be known as the Hub), will encourage more local people to get involved with the club.
Anwar attended the launch and spoke to invitees from the local Asian community attending their first match. “It’s hard for lower league clubs when there’s a big club nearby,” Anwar said, “so with West Ham moving onto their doorstep I think that’s going to have an impact.
“But there’s a great team of people at Orient. They’ve done well to provide supporters with their own space where they can be introduced to the club in a relaxed atmosphere.”
And as part of the club’s support of the nationwide Kick It Out campaign, the game against Mansfield Town was designated as our ‘Kick It Out’ awareness match too.
At the launch of the Hub, around 50 people from the local Asian community, including junior players and siblings from Stepney FC, enjoyed teas and coffee while Anwar spoke to the group about attending live football and dispelled myths around football fans – four of those attending ending up buying Orient season tickets!
The traditional working class ward of Leyton has undergone a dramatic transformation over recent decades – now almost 70% of the ward population is black or from an ethnic minority background. Anwar points out that with such dramatic changes locally have massive implications for a lower division side such as Leyton Orient.
“My father didn’t feel safe going to a match,” Anwar continued. “When he came over in the 70s there were huge issues around watching football for Asians. This made Match of the Day so important. In that era, whoever’s on MOTD for the last 30 seconds isn’t going to have the same impact as Liverpool or Manchester United. My dad wanted me to support Liverpool – but I said I wanted to support West Ham, they were right on our doorstep!”
The Hub at Leyton Orient will help the club build that relationship with potential new fans including those from minority backgrounds. Anwar says the club is encouraging a wide range of supporters and community groups to get in touch with them so they can make the most out of the new space.
“It’s really pleasing to see a club create such a stepping stone for supporters,” he said. “A lot of Asian fans will still have relationships with clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool but we’ve almost got to manipulate that relationship. By making sure they’re having that interaction with their local team, we can create that relationship here too.”
As part of their fantastic match day experience the youngsters of Stepney FC were led onto the pitch by head coach Emdad Rahman carrying Khadijah Jannath, who is blind and also the very popular team mascot. The team had official photos with the Orient players and the Kick it Out banner. They also formed the guard of honour as the players and officials entered the field of play and took part in a half time penalty shootout with the O’s mascot Theo the Wyvern.
Akik Miah from Stepney FC said, “The youngsters had an experience that they will treasure forever. Thank you Leyton Orient, Kick it Out and Fans For Diversity for such a magical day.”
And Kick it Out media manager Tom Taylor said, “Thanks to Stepney FC – the first group to use the Leyton Orient FC Fans For Diversity Hub!”
Anwar Uddin concluded, “I love it when a plan comes together. This was a derelict part of the stadium a short while back. Thanks to the club there has been a complete transformation. And thanks to Stepney FC for being the first to use the hub – it will be a place which will be of tremendous benefit to our community of fans.”
The club would also like to thank Stuart Minchin, an avid O’s fan himself, and First Class Facilities Management for their refurbishment of the room.
If you would like any more information on the Leyton Orient Fans For Diversity Hub or any of the community work that goes on at LOFC, please contact Community Liaison Officer Howard Gould on [email protected]