Supporter Groups and Why They are Needed
Historically there has been a suspicion towards supporter groups from some Derby fans. Some categorise those that are critical of how the club operates as an enemy, and some feel that if a group exists to facilitate or celebrate a particular type of supporter then it threatens or questions their way of supporting the club. Despite this doubt from some quarters, Derby County supporter groups are frequent. Some fade away but others survive and enrich the fabric of our football club.
While Punjabi Rams may have developed from a specific community of Derby County supporters, they have quickly become champions of inclusion. Black and White Together may well put up passionate defences of their contributions during the recent existential crisis. The Rams Trust may also, though many members would not consider themselves a supporters group per se. There are many supporter groups that provided affordable travel to Derby County matches for supporters across the country. Whilst these groups share Derby County as their focus, all have their own specialist interest. We at Club84 tried our hand at challenging poor football ownership and governance and accidentally organised a protest outside Derby’s largest Covid vaccination centre. The lesson we learnt during this unmitigated disaster was to stick to what you know!
We are not the first Derby supporters’ group that have been devised to improve the atmosphere at Pride Park. In 2009 a group of between 100-200 supporters set up camp in the North Stand Block A. Pride Park was particularly quiet during this period. The East Stand corner had been made to sit down and had lost its late 90s/early 00s intensity. The Barmy Army took it on themselves to try something different. Nick Webster explains, “I think without that work you wouldn’t have the ease you have today with drums and flags. The Barmy Army opened communication with the club about atmosphere”. It was ultimately those involved in the Barmy Army that successfully campaigned for the South Stand to be allocated to Derby County supporters. Whilst Club84 wouldn’t exist if the South Stand was booming every match, it has been a hugely successful project that has dramatically increased the potential noise that can be created by our fanbase at Pride Park.
Nick also added “we had been promised a block in the South Stand when it reopened but there was a mix up with the ticket office”. Years later in 2019, then employees of Derby County agreed to publish a Club84 statement of interest for those wishing to congregate in a block within the South Stand. This received approximately 300 responses, more than enough to make a real presence. When it came to actioning this, then club employees stalled and offered to spread the 300 across two blocks. As a group we decided we would organise the block ourselves using our own statement of interest but, before we were able to draw up battle plans, the pandemic stopped everything.
Following the hideous 3-0 defeat to Reading at the end of the 2014/2015 season, another group recognised the need to create that Pride Park spark. The 1884 Group were devised following the heartbreak and helplessness they felt as fans at the end of that season. Founding member, Tom Erskine reports, “we felt we could make a big impact pre-match which would set the tone and show our support to the players as they came out” and The 1884 Group undoubtedly made their mark but Tom acknowledged they ran out of steam in part due to naivety. “We were fed up with people taking stuff home, meaning each time we did something the impact was harder to maintain, without club support. That support was fantastic but diluted the organic approach and authenticity of what we were doing”. The group had plans for marches to the ground from the Neptune, a fan-led regeneration of the underpass into an unofficial fan zone and three dimensional tifos, all of which would have helped capture the passion our supporters have for our historic club.
There are examples of the supporter group we are proposing throughout England and Scotland. Both Celtic and Rangers compete each season for the best atmosphere at home matches in the country and yet, despite two incredible grounds filled with uniquely passionate support, both have benefited from ultra movements. Green Brigade and Union Bears were founded on the basis that, even with the levels of fanaticism shown at both Glaswegian football clubs, modern football had diluted that historic intensity. Both groups have regained their club’s famous noise and are responsible for creating and organising the displays seen regularly at their home matches that capture their cultures so impressively. Both groups play a very significant part in campaigning for the wider communities that their football clubs represent.
An English example is the Holmesdale Fanatics of Crystal Palace. In a Premier League almost completely gentrified, Selhurst Park has consistently had the best atmosphere in the top flight for the last decade. Formed in 2005, the fanatics have had to battle Croydon Council, the metropolitan police and previous club owners to even exist. In 2019 they were able to convince their club, backed by near unanimous support from the wider fanbase, to relocate their ultras from the corner flag to behind the goal to help spread the noise they generate to a greater extent.
By organising and protecting the passion of these like-minded fans, all the clubs mentioned create consistently impressive vocal home support. You can’t move from a remarkable Baseball Ground to a retail park and expect to harness the same fervour without care and attention. We are a club that has experienced nearly all the worst aspects of modern football in our recent history. If we can’t convince you, the wider Derby County fanbase, that Club84 needs to exist then we can assure you that, after we fold, someone else will replace us within a year because something will still be missing.
We are currently in communications with the football club about finding a block of 300 where we could home and develop Club84. We will update you all with what we are proposing before season ticket renewals begin.