Meet the men behind Fans Supporting Foodbanks
By Euan Burns
Every football fan knows what to expect when you’re lingering outside the ground waiting for kick off. Burger van’s, pop-up bar’s, maybe a bit of music and an abundance of people selling you every type of merchandise you can possibly imagine.
Outside both Anfield and Goodison Park however, you’ll find two truly inspirational men doing everything they can to help their local community. These men are 61-year-old Everton fan Dave Kelly, and 46-year-old Liverpool fan Ian Byrne.
Dave, Ian and their team spend a few hours before every Everton and Liverpool game collecting food from match-going fans, and taking it to local foodbanks. The two men’s footballing allegiances formed the basis for their project, and spawned the fast-growing hashtag #HungerDoesntWearClubColours.
What is immediately striking about Dave and Ian is how genuine and honest they are. They don’t speak and act like people who know they are doing a wonderful thing. As far as they are concerned, what they are doing is a necessary thing. They dress in the way you’d expect any casual football fan to do so, jeans and dark jackets. Dave was wearing a beanie hat with his Fans Supporting Foodbanks badge attached to the front. Nothing about them suggested they were the leaders of the steady crowed surrounding the van situated on Anfield Road. Their strong scouse accents add a level of credibility to their comments on the state of their community.
The project has gained huge recognition over recent months, meaning I had to wait for Ian to finish his chat with another journalist before he joined Dave and I. I met up with them both during a food collection outside Anfield, prior to the Liverpool vs Huddersfield match. After chatting for a bit and telling me whom various people dotted about the area were, Dave introduced me to Ian in a manner that suggests he doesn’t see himself as news-worthy, by saying: “This lad’s a journalist, bizarrely wanting to find out who we are and how we do it.”
This led Dave onto the first interesting point about how the organisation is run in regards to leadership: “No one’s really in charge it’s a bit of a free for all. In my day job I work for a trade union, so the thought of being in charge of something or a manager is a bit of an alien concept.” The project is run with a strong socialist ethos, which has clearly been engrained in Dave for his whole life. Dave told me one of his anecdote that became very regular during the chat: “My son said to me the other day, I used to love coming out of school on a Friday afternoon and going out with you because we’d put a loud haler on the van and we’d go and collect food for the miners during the miners’ strike in 1985. 35 years later, you’re still out collecting food. You never feel like you’ve wasted your life.”
Interviewing Dave whilst in his natural requires a level of patience, because every passer-by knows who he is and wants a chat. One volunteer at the van said to me: “People usually have neck ache after talking to Dave because you’re turning here there and everywhere”. It epitomises the community spirit both he and Ian are so desperate to highlight.
Collections have been carried out under the Fans Supporting Foodbanks title for three years now, with the idea coming to the two men whilst on the train back from London after a meeting with the Premier League. Dave said: “Our first collection was after we’d seen a huge queue outside a community centre and we found out it was a foodbank queue, and it was basically a food bank without food. We thought we better hit the ground running. Our first collection was out of a wheelie bin, we got more chip papers than food.”
There is clearly a very down-to-earth and pragmatic way about how Dave thinks, as shown by his attitude towards political labels: “People accuse people who put their head above the parapet and get involved with community initiatives of being a Communist, a Marxist, you name it I’ve been called it. I always say to people, I am not that political, but I know what’s right and I know what’s wrong. I would actually suggest that I’m a community activist, I’m immersed in what goes on in and around my community, and I’m not happy or comfortable with what I see going on in my community, or any other community.”
The idea of mobilising football fans all over the country to help those in poverty is something that Ian and Dave are very enthusiastic about. Ian seemed to fill with pride when he said: “That’s probably one of our proudest achievements. Making fans focus on the bigger enemy and not each other. We always say our enemy is not someone in Salford, Newcastle, and Huddersfield whatever. They are helping us collect food because our communities are starving. That is one of the most enjoyable parts of it. We’ve got the Huddersfield supporters trust coming down tonight and they’re bringing a donation of food, we’ll go to Newcastle, Dave’s going to Manchester. There’s a cross-pollination now where we’re all helping each other out. It’s quite ground breaking to be honest when you’re bringing food to Old Trafford as a Liverpool fan.”
It isn’t just food collections that Ian and Dave use the vehicle of football for. They want to integrate everyone in their society, and make sure no one is left behind. They have gone to great lengths to make the Muslim community in Liverpool feel as welcome as possible, especially given the current political climate. Dave told me a story which highlighted a key problem in society: “You’ll be aware of Mo Salah receiving racist abuse at West Ham’s ground the other week. That’s obviously of great concern to all of us. What you probably won’t realise is that a few weeks ago, Fans Supporting Foodbanks and West Ham Independent Supporters Association went to Mo Salah’s mosque, and they offered a hand of friendship. The Imran at the mosque at Friday prayer time conducted the whole service with a West Ham scarf on because he accepted the hand of friendship.”
I was aware of the racist abuse, but not the heart-warming events that followed. I pointed out that that may well be part of the problem. This prompted Ian to say: “Well yeah let’s be blunt about it, that was a massive failing of the footballing authorities that what happened there wasn’t highlighted. It was one of the proudest moments we’ve probably ever had because it was really touching when he put the scarf on. We always get a lot of warmth from that congregation. There was a 75-year-old guy there praying and waving his Liverpool scarf at Dave. It’s using football again to lighten the tone, unite people, break down divides. It’s a hugely powerful tool.”
I pressed Ian on the idea of football being a powerful tool, pointing out how it can be so effective in both good and bad ways. He said in response: “Absolutely, we’re domestically opposed to what Tommy Robinson and Football Lads Alliance and all that garbage do. They see the value of football the same way that we do, so they see football as an opportunity to create a division. We see football as an opportunity to unite communities. Its dead interesting when you sit down and you look at their modus operandum and you look at our modus operandum because footballs the national game, and it’s amazing that me and Dave can use football as a vehicle to walk into a mosque and integrate with their communities.”
Their work with Mohammed Salah’s mosque stretches back further than that. During the 2018 World Cup, they screened the Egypt vs Russia game at the mosque, and about 250 people attended from the whole community. Dave described it as: ”One of our proudest moments”. Ian elaborated by saying: “A lot of people haven’t been to a mosque before, and it’s an opportunity to break down that barrier and put some of those mistruths that you might read in The Daily Mail and the right-wing propaganda to bed really.” With a smirk on his face, Dave added: “It’s funny how no one’s ever tried to radicalise me isn’t it? There’s an ignorance isn’t there, what happens behind that door there.”
I asked Dave how rewarding it is to know he’s helping so many people, but his answer suggested he feels their work in mobilising football fans is more impressive. Food bank collections is something that should be happening regardless. He said: “Well I think it’s more rewarding knowing how we’re helping to change the narrative about football fans. That lad over there has just bought a lodge for disabled and sick children in the Lake District. Football fans believe it or not are just like anyone else.”
It was at this point a very wealthy looking man arrived, shook hands with us all and started having a casual chat. This was the Chief Executive Officer of Liverpool Football Club, Peter Moore. Politely, Dave immediately explained whom I was and what I was doing, to which Mr Moore said: “It’s a great story here isn’t it. Careful though you know what side of the park he’s from.” He went on to ridicule me about Manchester United’s recent form, and then rushed off to get something to eat. In fairness, he had just flown in from China and hadn’t eaten. Incidentally, it was Mr Moore who bought the van that Fans Supporting Foodbanks use for their collections out of his own pocket. It was testament to the relaxed, social vibe around the collection that such a prominent figure can turn up, have a chat and continue with his day.
Ian and Dave have a really impressive mind-set, and are doing deeply impressive work. They are changing the stereotype of what a football fan is, and helping those in need along the way.