The subversive jerseys challenging the toxic sides of football fandom

The subversive jerseys challenging the toxic sides of football fandom
Football fanatic and fashion designer Hattie Crowther’s ‘Fuck the Fans’ is giving a new face to fandom in response to racist abuse suffered by England players after Euros 2020.

On the evening of July 11, 2021, fashion designer and lecturer Hattie Crowther was making her way home through Stratford, east London, and the surrounding atmosphere was downbeat. Just moments before, the England men’s football team had lost in the final of the EURO 2020 tournament in a tense shootout against Italy, missing their final three penalties after 120 minutes couldn’t separate the two teams.

“People were just chucking things everywhere – it was difficult to get home,” Crowther recalls. “And when those particular players missed, you knew it was coming, your stomach just sinks.”

The “it” that Crowther refers to was a deluge of online racist abuse launched against Black English players, particularly those who missed penalties – Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho. While the abuse was widely condemned across British media, sporting figures and politicians, there was an air of inevitability about what happened, particularly with a sharp rise in reports of racism in English football in the preceding few years.

As an avid football fan and lover – she’s wearing a vintage 2006/2007 AC Milan away shirt as she speaks – the moment led her to begin questioning the nature and meaning of fandom in football. Her newly released project and collection Fuck The Fans – released three years later as the latest edition of the Euros has rolled round – flips the toxic stories on their heads, while flipping a proverbial middle finger to racist football supporters. Printed on vintage England jerseys and washed jeans are moments of joy and celebration from that year’s Euros run to the final, which had until those final minutes, brought much of the nation together in anticipation of the squad of 26 English players bringing football home.

“It’s why I had to do this collection, because it’s important to define what is a fan,” she says. “Because everyone is a fan until someone misses. I wanted those people to question themselves, like why do they feel the need to do this? Because at the end of the day, to be extremely blunt these were old, white cisgendered males thinking they can comment on an athlete’s performance – it’s ludicrous.”

To bring the project together, Crowther enlisted photographer Rebecca Zephyr Thomas to take pictures of models in a Soho pub, who shares a similar outlook. “I watched the final as well, and it was obviously 2021 so a lot of things had gone on in the past year,” Thomas says. “But one thing was Marcus Rashford saving children with free meals, so even if you weren’t a mega football supporter, he was basically the most beloved person in the country for looking after children when the government wouldn’t. Also, Black Lives Matter came out massively that year and there was this backlash, but I think there is always backlash with liberal progress.”

The resulting pictures, featuring models cosplaying as football hooligans while joyously shouting and flailing their limbs around, help to give a different face to fandom, while models pretending to urinate on the street explore its less beautiful side. “They just really went for it,” says Thomas. “There’s a lot of shots where they’re yelling at a TV screen, and there’s something about that atmosphere that’s uplifting. Shouting in a pub with a pint – that’s something we can all relate to.”

There’s a diverse crew of people in the shots, from Black and Asian fans to a drag queen, challenging the typical white, cisgendered ideas of fans that tend to dominate the popular consciousness. It gives a broader representation to both the UK and the world’s most played sport, and whose fans are from every conceived background under the sun. That ideal is also put into practice in the collection, with 20 per cent of proceeds being donated to Football Beyond Borders – a charity that aims to engage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds at school via their passions for football.

“It means a lot to create what I love within fashion and football and people actually listen and donate to Football Beyond Borders,” Crowther says. “I’m not doing it to upset everyone. It’s more to spark dialogue and start getting conversations going within football and also fashion as a whole.”

Fuck the fans is available to purchase from Hattie Crowther’s official website

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