Wednesday 1 July 2020

Cardboard Fans Are Human Fans

In my previous post, talking about ‘the new normal’ watching football, I commented on how clubs
were introducing cardboard cutouts to give supporters a presence at the games they cannot go to. Being a dedicated guardian of everything that’s cool and trendy in football (?), and somewhat of a Grumpy Gus, I immediately dismissed this as ‘a bit ridiculous on the face of it’ – it just seemed to be a quirky way for clubs to earn some extra coin by doing something that was fundamentally pointless. Oh, how wrong I was.

Aside from the cardboard representations of the supporters who couldn’t be there, there were also celebrities and other, shall we say, ‘controversial’ figures taking up seats in empty stadiums. It was mostly seen as a bit of fun for people – the opportunity to have themselves (or their favourite people) at the ground in cardboard form was a novelty, something to ‘banter’ about if you will. Then, there was a story at my own club, Wigan Athletic which made me completely rethink my take on them – why they’re important.

Five years ago, Latics supporter Christine Lamb lost her five-month-old baby, Jack, to sudden infant death syndrome. Like Christine, Jack’s father, Stephen, is a Latics fan – in fact, they both met during Wigan’s run to lifting the FA Cup in 2013 – so it was inevitable that Jack would have grown up to be a fan too. In tribute, Christine (after a suggestion from her children) decided to get a cutout made of Jack so he could ‘attend his first game’. Not there in person, but in spirit at least – just like all the other supporters who couldn’t attend owing to the lockdown.

When I saw this story, it all suddenly made sense – the poetry of it is quite beautiful, in fact. They are ostensibly cardboard cutouts, inanimate objects that have taken a minute to create, but the feelings and memories they convey to those who know them make them real. All of a sudden, these ‘cardboard fans’ were ‘human fans’ – and their presence provided people with an opportunity to pay their respects to loved ones; telling their stories to people who didn’t get to know them.  Is anyone really gone if we remember them and pass their stories on? No, of course not – they live on in our hearts (and for special occasions like these, as cardboard cutouts).

After learning about Jack, Wigan Athletic refunded the money, but in a typical example of the tight community the club has come to represent, Christine immediately donated her refund to the club’s Community Trust; a charity that undertakes a wide range of activities for the betterment of the lives of local people (they’ve especially been busy in the last three months of this Coronavirus pandemic, checking in on vulnerable people and helping to deliver supplies).
I couldn’t help but feel inspired by the community spirit that has been shown by the club and its supporters during the last few months – things like producing cardboard cutouts, donating to charity and giving someone a ring to see how they’re doing may seem like small gestures, but small gestures can make a huge difference to a person’s outlook on life. As a big focal point in our communities, football clubs are in a great position to inspire us, that we’re all part of something – and what are our football clubs if they don’t represent us? What’s to left to support?

When we’re able to get back to normal, Christine hopes to embark on the annual Latics fans walk to raise money for Joseph’s Goal (a charity which I’ve covered in my report of the Wigan Athletic charity game at Ashton Town). It was supposed to be a three-day excursion to Barnsley this year, but it obviously got postponed – but whenever the next one is, Christine will attend with her son.  So if you would like to support her efforts, please consider donating to her fundraising page.

Cardboard fans are great – although, I’m not sure I’ll change my mind about the artificial crowd noise; let us hear the players swear and curse as nature has intended!


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