The bigger picture

Jacqui McAssey’s fanzines put the focus on female supporters whose stories have too often gone untold. Here she tells us how a simple observation has struck a chord

WORDS Rebecca Hopkins | PHOTOGRAPHY Jacqui Mcassey

Interview
Jacqui McAssey has such a gentle, unhurried way of speaking that it pulls you in. There’s a reflectiveness about her words that is compelling and powerful. The same might be said of Girlfans and Girlfans Untold, her photography projects that give visibility to female football supporters. The images are understated yet meaningful because they reveal a part of football culture that has largely been ignored.

A Liverpool supporter since childhood, McAssey got the idea for Girlfans back in 2013 after a “very simple observation”. “I just stood outside the Kop at the start of the season and it struck me that there were a lot of women and girls going into the ground,” she says. “And that led to me finding out that the statistic at the time was 23 per cent.” Yet nowhere was this fact apparent.

"I think that visibility was missing, not only in the media but also the clubs themselves. I remember recording the games on TV and I even used to look at the adverts, to look at female representation in them as well. There were no women there.”

Jacqui McAssey at a game

A senior fashion lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, McAssey had always wanted to work on something related to football, “but I never wanted it to be a forced thing”. So she and her friend Alex Hurst – a fellow academic and photographer – went along to a match at Liverpool and another at Everton, taking photos of female fans. Excited by the results, they decided to keep returning for the rest of the campaign. “We wanted – in a more ethnographic way – to actually get a snapshot of all the supporters over one season, rather than one game.”

Working outside a busy ground prior to kick-off meant photos were taken on the go. “When we started it was very impulsive,” says McAssey. “You have to work quickly. You can’t say, ‘Can you come over here because there’s this great backdrop.’” The subsequent fanzines proved popular and an idea that began in Liverpool broadened out to include Manchester City, Tranmere Rovers, Burnley and Celtic. With each new edition there was more attention. Little wonder, because there’s a natural vibrancy to the photos that tells its own story.

“My dad wasn’t really into football. It was my mum who supported Liverpool. She was a fan but she never went to a game. She would go shopping and come home. And she’d know the score because people tend to talk about things in the streets or in the shops."
"I think it’s really important for younger men and women to know that these women were there too. It’s important historically.”

“Some people say, ‘It’s about time we were all considered.’ Other people are quite happy to talk about the team, the club, the manager, the results, the line-up for the day. They pose the way they want. I don’t move them around unless I’m shooting into the sun or whatever. They’re often smiling and happy. It shows the relationship between us and the fact that we’ve been talking about something they love.”

Working hard all week and then again at weekends for the past seven years has been exhausting for McAssey – especially since, in the midst of all this, she became a mother as well. But the project started from a personal base and “that’s what’s driven it all, in a way”.

More recently McAssey launched Girlfans Untold, a magazine supported by Liverpool John Moores University that champions older female supporters and combines their photos with their individual narratives. “Making the fanzines, we’d talked to women who had been going for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years or longer,” she says. “We realised just how, of course, knowledgeable they were. They were passionate. And then I realised, ‘Hold on a minute: it’s not just about women in general who are underrepresented, but actually it’s older women.’”

An Everton supporter called Elaine proved the catalyst. While having her photo taken she told McAssey about her journey, via ferry, to Rotterdam for the 1985 European Cup Winners’ Cup final against Rapid Wien. Elaine’s pensioner mum had gone too.

“She got me so excited. Growing up in Liverpool, I have heard all the stories from men about going to Rome in ’84. I’ve heard everything. I’ve heard of how they got there, how they travelled, the escapades – and then Elaine told me the same thing. I think it’s really important for younger men and women to know that these women were there too. It’s important historically.”

McAssey goes on to tell the story of Jane, a Liverpool devotee who has been to “all finals of anything" – since 1977.

“Last year, Liverpool put out a video of a very well-known [male] supporter who’s been to all the club’s European Cup finals. And I sat there quietly thinking, ‘And I know a woman who has too.’”

Addressing the here and now is important. But unless someone is prepared to delve into the past and listen, then so much football culture – the stories and experiences – could be lost for good.

“It’s part of the stereotyping that everybody does when you look at an older person, woman or man,” says McAssey. “If you saw Jane in the streets, you wouldn’t know that she’d been climbing through pub windows at Wembley. You wouldn’t know she was in Rome in ’84.

“She’s stayed in quite nice hotels because she can do now that she’s retired. And sometimes, by accident, she’s in the same hotel as the players. And she says, ‘I get in the lift with my heroes and they just think I’m an old woman standing in a lift.’”

Before the lockdown interrupted normal life, McAssey had been collaborating on a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of Feyenoord’s European Cup triumph. Meanwhile, she hopes to curate a second edition of Girlfans Untold and also reflects on the need to document female fans who would have liked to be at a match but couldn’t make it.  

“You know, for every man that goes to a ground and has children, there will be a woman somewhere who is possibly interested in football and can’t go,” she says. “And yeah, of course, it reflects wider society. Some of those older women probably stopped going to matches at some point because they had children.”

She goes on to question what it means to be a supporter and whether an emphasis on match attendance rather misses the point. On this, she speaks from a very personal perspective. “I suppose when a lot of people talk to me they assume, quite wrongly, that I went to Anfield when I was a kid, but I didn’t.

“My dad wasn’t really into football. It was my mum who supported Liverpool. She was a fan but she never went to a game. She would go shopping and come home. And she’d know the score because people tend to talk about things in the streets or in the shops. Even when she’d go to bingo, they’d give out the scores. So she always knew and she’d always be interested, but had never been to a game.”

For McAssey and her mum, supporting Liverpool meant watching on TV or listening on the radio – and mass celebrations. “Mum would take us to the parades. And it felt really natural and normal that the bus would be not far away from our street. And the late 1970s and 80s, it was a period when people would decorate shop windows and their houses. It was a really, really big occasion.

“I was definitely part of that crowd. Not a crowd in a stadium, but in a crowd of people who were celebrating. It’s so evocative when I think back about that time. So although I never went to the ground as a child, I never felt like I wasn’t part of that community and that has always stayed with me.”  

Jacqui McAssey and Champions Journal would be keen to hear your stories or share your images supporting your team. Get in touch at info@champions-journal.com

A Liverpool supporter since childhood, McAssey got the idea for Girlfans back in 2013 after a “very simple observation”. “I just stood outside the Kop at the start of the season and it struck me that there were a lot of women and girls going into the ground,” she says. “And that led to me finding out that the statistic at the time was 23 per cent.” Yet nowhere was this fact apparent.

"I think that visibility was missing, not only in the media but also the clubs themselves. I remember recording the games on TV and I even used to look at the adverts, to look at female representation in them as well. There were no women there.”

Jacqui McAssey at a game

A senior fashion lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, McAssey had always wanted to work on something related to football, “but I never wanted it to be a forced thing”. So she and her friend Alex Hurst – a fellow academic and photographer – went along to a match at Liverpool and another at Everton, taking photos of female fans. Excited by the results, they decided to keep returning for the rest of the campaign. “We wanted – in a more ethnographic way – to actually get a snapshot of all the supporters over one season, rather than one game.”

Working outside a busy ground prior to kick-off meant photos were taken on the go. “When we started it was very impulsive,” says McAssey. “You have to work quickly. You can’t say, ‘Can you come over here because there’s this great backdrop.’” The subsequent fanzines proved popular and an idea that began in Liverpool broadened out to include Manchester City, Tranmere Rovers, Burnley and Celtic. With each new edition there was more attention. Little wonder, because there’s a natural vibrancy to the photos that tells its own story.

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“My dad wasn’t really into football. It was my mum who supported Liverpool. She was a fan but she never went to a game. She would go shopping and come home. And she’d know the score because people tend to talk about things in the streets or in the shops."
"I think it’s really important for younger men and women to know that these women were there too. It’s important historically.”

“Some people say, ‘It’s about time we were all considered.’ Other people are quite happy to talk about the team, the club, the manager, the results, the line-up for the day. They pose the way they want. I don’t move them around unless I’m shooting into the sun or whatever. They’re often smiling and happy. It shows the relationship between us and the fact that we’ve been talking about something they love.”

Working hard all week and then again at weekends for the past seven years has been exhausting for McAssey – especially since, in the midst of all this, she became a mother as well. But the project started from a personal base and “that’s what’s driven it all, in a way”.

More recently McAssey launched Girlfans Untold, a magazine supported by Liverpool John Moores University that champions older female supporters and combines their photos with their individual narratives. “Making the fanzines, we’d talked to women who had been going for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years or longer,” she says. “We realised just how, of course, knowledgeable they were. They were passionate. And then I realised, ‘Hold on a minute: it’s not just about women in general who are underrepresented, but actually it’s older women.’”

An Everton supporter called Elaine proved the catalyst. While having her photo taken she told McAssey about her journey, via ferry, to Rotterdam for the 1985 European Cup Winners’ Cup final against Rapid Wien. Elaine’s pensioner mum had gone too.

“She got me so excited. Growing up in Liverpool, I have heard all the stories from men about going to Rome in ’84. I’ve heard everything. I’ve heard of how they got there, how they travelled, the escapades – and then Elaine told me the same thing. I think it’s really important for younger men and women to know that these women were there too. It’s important historically.”

McAssey goes on to tell the story of Jane, a Liverpool devotee who has been to “all finals of anything" – since 1977.

“Last year, Liverpool put out a video of a very well-known [male] supporter who’s been to all the club’s European Cup finals. And I sat there quietly thinking, ‘And I know a woman who has too.’”

Addressing the here and now is important. But unless someone is prepared to delve into the past and listen, then so much football culture – the stories and experiences – could be lost for good.

“It’s part of the stereotyping that everybody does when you look at an older person, woman or man,” says McAssey. “If you saw Jane in the streets, you wouldn’t know that she’d been climbing through pub windows at Wembley. You wouldn’t know she was in Rome in ’84.

“She’s stayed in quite nice hotels because she can do now that she’s retired. And sometimes, by accident, she’s in the same hotel as the players. And she says, ‘I get in the lift with my heroes and they just think I’m an old woman standing in a lift.’”

Before the lockdown interrupted normal life, McAssey had been collaborating on a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of Feyenoord’s European Cup triumph. Meanwhile, she hopes to curate a second edition of Girlfans Untold and also reflects on the need to document female fans who would have liked to be at a match but couldn’t make it.  

“You know, for every man that goes to a ground and has children, there will be a woman somewhere who is possibly interested in football and can’t go,” she says. “And yeah, of course, it reflects wider society. Some of those older women probably stopped going to matches at some point because they had children.”

She goes on to question what it means to be a supporter and whether an emphasis on match attendance rather misses the point. On this, she speaks from a very personal perspective. “I suppose when a lot of people talk to me they assume, quite wrongly, that I went to Anfield when I was a kid, but I didn’t.

“My dad wasn’t really into football. It was my mum who supported Liverpool. She was a fan but she never went to a game. She would go shopping and come home. And she’d know the score because people tend to talk about things in the streets or in the shops. Even when she’d go to bingo, they’d give out the scores. So she always knew and she’d always be interested, but had never been to a game.”

For McAssey and her mum, supporting Liverpool meant watching on TV or listening on the radio – and mass celebrations. “Mum would take us to the parades. And it felt really natural and normal that the bus would be not far away from our street. And the late 1970s and 80s, it was a period when people would decorate shop windows and their houses. It was a really, really big occasion.

“I was definitely part of that crowd. Not a crowd in a stadium, but in a crowd of people who were celebrating. It’s so evocative when I think back about that time. So although I never went to the ground as a child, I never felt like I wasn’t part of that community and that has always stayed with me.”  

Jacqui McAssey and Champions Journal would be keen to hear your stories or share your images supporting your team. Get in touch at info@champions-journal.com

A Liverpool supporter since childhood, McAssey got the idea for Girlfans back in 2013 after a “very simple observation”. “I just stood outside the Kop at the start of the season and it struck me that there were a lot of women and girls going into the ground,” she says. “And that led to me finding out that the statistic at the time was 23 per cent.” Yet nowhere was this fact apparent.

"I think that visibility was missing, not only in the media but also the clubs themselves. I remember recording the games on TV and I even used to look at the adverts, to look at female representation in them as well. There were no women there.”

Jacqui McAssey at a game

A senior fashion lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, McAssey had always wanted to work on something related to football, “but I never wanted it to be a forced thing”. So she and her friend Alex Hurst – a fellow academic and photographer – went along to a match at Liverpool and another at Everton, taking photos of female fans. Excited by the results, they decided to keep returning for the rest of the campaign. “We wanted – in a more ethnographic way – to actually get a snapshot of all the supporters over one season, rather than one game.”

Working outside a busy ground prior to kick-off meant photos were taken on the go. “When we started it was very impulsive,” says McAssey. “You have to work quickly. You can’t say, ‘Can you come over here because there’s this great backdrop.’” The subsequent fanzines proved popular and an idea that began in Liverpool broadened out to include Manchester City, Tranmere Rovers, Burnley and Celtic. With each new edition there was more attention. Little wonder, because there’s a natural vibrancy to the photos that tells its own story.

“My dad wasn’t really into football. It was my mum who supported Liverpool. She was a fan but she never went to a game. She would go shopping and come home. And she’d know the score because people tend to talk about things in the streets or in the shops."
"I think it’s really important for younger men and women to know that these women were there too. It’s important historically.”

“Some people say, ‘It’s about time we were all considered.’ Other people are quite happy to talk about the team, the club, the manager, the results, the line-up for the day. They pose the way they want. I don’t move them around unless I’m shooting into the sun or whatever. They’re often smiling and happy. It shows the relationship between us and the fact that we’ve been talking about something they love.”

Working hard all week and then again at weekends for the past seven years has been exhausting for McAssey – especially since, in the midst of all this, she became a mother as well. But the project started from a personal base and “that’s what’s driven it all, in a way”.

More recently McAssey launched Girlfans Untold, a magazine supported by Liverpool John Moores University that champions older female supporters and combines their photos with their individual narratives. “Making the fanzines, we’d talked to women who had been going for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years or longer,” she says. “We realised just how, of course, knowledgeable they were. They were passionate. And then I realised, ‘Hold on a minute: it’s not just about women in general who are underrepresented, but actually it’s older women.’”

An Everton supporter called Elaine proved the catalyst. While having her photo taken she told McAssey about her journey, via ferry, to Rotterdam for the 1985 European Cup Winners’ Cup final against Rapid Wien. Elaine’s pensioner mum had gone too.

“She got me so excited. Growing up in Liverpool, I have heard all the stories from men about going to Rome in ’84. I’ve heard everything. I’ve heard of how they got there, how they travelled, the escapades – and then Elaine told me the same thing. I think it’s really important for younger men and women to know that these women were there too. It’s important historically.”

McAssey goes on to tell the story of Jane, a Liverpool devotee who has been to “all finals of anything" – since 1977.

“Last year, Liverpool put out a video of a very well-known [male] supporter who’s been to all the club’s European Cup finals. And I sat there quietly thinking, ‘And I know a woman who has too.’”

Addressing the here and now is important. But unless someone is prepared to delve into the past and listen, then so much football culture – the stories and experiences – could be lost for good.

“It’s part of the stereotyping that everybody does when you look at an older person, woman or man,” says McAssey. “If you saw Jane in the streets, you wouldn’t know that she’d been climbing through pub windows at Wembley. You wouldn’t know she was in Rome in ’84.

“She’s stayed in quite nice hotels because she can do now that she’s retired. And sometimes, by accident, she’s in the same hotel as the players. And she says, ‘I get in the lift with my heroes and they just think I’m an old woman standing in a lift.’”

Before the lockdown interrupted normal life, McAssey had been collaborating on a book commemorating the 50th anniversary of Feyenoord’s European Cup triumph. Meanwhile, she hopes to curate a second edition of Girlfans Untold and also reflects on the need to document female fans who would have liked to be at a match but couldn’t make it.  

“You know, for every man that goes to a ground and has children, there will be a woman somewhere who is possibly interested in football and can’t go,” she says. “And yeah, of course, it reflects wider society. Some of those older women probably stopped going to matches at some point because they had children.”

She goes on to question what it means to be a supporter and whether an emphasis on match attendance rather misses the point. On this, she speaks from a very personal perspective. “I suppose when a lot of people talk to me they assume, quite wrongly, that I went to Anfield when I was a kid, but I didn’t.

“My dad wasn’t really into football. It was my mum who supported Liverpool. She was a fan but she never went to a game. She would go shopping and come home. And she’d know the score because people tend to talk about things in the streets or in the shops. Even when she’d go to bingo, they’d give out the scores. So she always knew and she’d always be interested, but had never been to a game.”

For McAssey and her mum, supporting Liverpool meant watching on TV or listening on the radio – and mass celebrations. “Mum would take us to the parades. And it felt really natural and normal that the bus would be not far away from our street. And the late 1970s and 80s, it was a period when people would decorate shop windows and their houses. It was a really, really big occasion.

“I was definitely part of that crowd. Not a crowd in a stadium, but in a crowd of people who were celebrating. It’s so evocative when I think back about that time. So although I never went to the ground as a child, I never felt like I wasn’t part of that community and that has always stayed with me.”  

Jacqui McAssey and Champions Journal would be keen to hear your stories or share your images supporting your team. Get in touch at info@champions-journal.com

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