It has been a brilliant summer for women’s football already. With the UEFA Women’s European Championships on our doorstep, the women’s game is continuing to grow beyond all expectations, shown by the attendance records that seem to be broken at every turn. Before the tournament began already over half a million tickets had been sold for the games and then the tournament opener between England and Austria at Old Trafford was attended by a record 68,871 people. In the Netherlands in 2017, the overall attendance was 248,075 fans for the whole tournament, but that number was smashed before the group stages had even ended in England. The appetite for women’s football in the UK is at an all time high, especially as the Lionesses have made it the whole way to Wembley.

But while the women’s game is going through a huge explosion, that doesn’t mean that we haven’t already been loving this game for a long time. Women and football is not a new thing. For years we have lived and breathed football, despite the old stereotype that it’s a game for the boys. However, while it is becoming far more accepted to watch a football match as a woman, that doesn’t mean that it’s a completely safe environment. From sexist abuse to having incredibly poor toilet facilities, the modern game still has a long way to go to make women feel completely welcome.

Ask any woman who has been to a match and they’ll be able to give you an example of some sort of outdated view about women and football. Whether it’s something quite abusive, or someone just innocently telling you how surprised they are that you know the names of the players, I’d say that it has probably happened to us all. And don’t get me started on social media…

But in case you aren’t aware of the challenges facing women and girls at football matches, the Lillies are here to help you out. We often discuss our experiences at football matches and the similarities at what we see and hear are striking. Lillies co-founder Emily Lockyer says, “…I immediately thought back to moments going to games as a child, travelling with my dad and his friends – often being one of the few female supporters in the pub before a game or the only young girl in a train carriage full of men. I particularly remember going to an away game years ago, where our designated area was a local working men’s club. They tried to deny me entry – not because I was a child (there were boys already in there), but because I was a girl.”

“Another experience which springs to mind is attending Blackpool away. They were recently promoted and were updating their ground to meet Premier League standards. The game was in August and the ladies wasn’t open yet – so I had to use the builders’ portaloo, with my uncles standing guard. I’m sure many female supporters can relate to this – we are often thought of at the last minute, or as an inconvenience to be appeased. The Fulham Lillies are here to make sure that’s no longer the case – we want to ensure that female supporters are given a voice, and receive the opportunities and treatment we may not have had when we started supporting the club.” 

But our experiences at the game can sometimes be a walk in the park in comparison to what we often endure online. I actually remember the very first comment on my debut article for I had written about some transfer speculation and the comment from someone called ‘Anon’ (classic) was, “…this is why women shouldn’t talk about football.” I was 15. Straight away I knew that there were people who thought that a woman’s opinion of football wasn’t worth anything.

“Every one of us has had a negative experience whilst following football. Thankfully most of mine have been online, but that doesn’t dilute them in any way,” says co-founder Laura Radford. “By forming Fulham Lillies, we’re providing a forum for female Fulham fans to come together and share ideas of how we can make the experience better for females going to both home and away games. And more generally online too when involved in the conversation around Fulham Football Club.“

And this is why the idea for a female supporters group for Fulham was born. A chance to create a space to encourage more women and young girls to actively support Fulham and an opportunity to give females a voice within the club.

You might wonder why we chose the name ‘Fulham Lillies’. Lillies co-founder Sarah Keig explains that, “…The name Fulham Lillies was chosen because of a combination of reasons. For  many years Fulham were  known as the Lillywhites. It’s unsure where the nickname came from but historically Fulham played at various sites on Lillie Road, which is why we chose to use that spelling for Lillies. The white lilly represents rebirth and we see the Fulham Lillies as the start of a new chapter for female Fulham Supporters.

Fulham Lillies also have big ambitions regarding the women’s team at Fulham. In recent years the club has put a lot of focus on creating a women’s team and pathway that will hopefully one day allow us to be competitive in the WSL but we are going to try and drive the support up for the team. We want to increase their visibility across the club and the fan base.

For women and girls, football stadiums can be overwhelming places. But we would like to ensure that no female Fulham fan feels that way. We believe that everyone should feel comfortable when supporting their team, so whether it’s organising meet ups to allow us to walk to games together, or encouraging someone who has perhaps never been to a football match because they haven’t felt comfortable going by themselves.

Our first meet up will be ahead of final friendly of preseason when Fulham take on Villarreal at the Cottage. Come and find us at The Tea House Bishops Park from 1pm and afterwards, we’ll head to the ground together. Everyone is welcome.

The Fulham Lillies co-founders are – Sarah Keig, Laura Radford, Laura Main, Emily Lockyer, Tamara Dragadze, Sue Couch, Hayley Davinson, Amelia Armstrong , Clare Parish and Lydia Campbell.