THE EARLY YEARS OF APFSCIL
As well as formalising the inauguration of The Association, APFSCIL's First General Meeting also identified those problems of most current concern to supporters' clubs and in doing so defined an agenda for early action by the elected Administrative Committee. Inevitably, one of the subjects discussed was football hooliganism, from which emerged a unanimous recommendation that the re-selling of match tickets should be made illegal and that sentences on those found guilty of violent behaviour in football crowds should be more severe. Already, the fairness and respectability of the Association's reputation had been defined – and was immediately reflected by an exchange of correspondence with the Home Secretary.
One of the Association's initial thrusts was to expand its membership. There were clearly clubs in existence with whom no contact had been established. There were groups of fans of specific teams travelling regularly who had never had the incentive or drive to regularise their relationship by forming a club. Many were members of a supporters' club associated with their home-town team. Why not become a remote Branch of that club? Through direct contact with league clubs, adverts. in their programmes and personal contact and encouragement of fellow travellers, other existing groups were identified or new ones formed and APFSCIL's membership slowly, but inexorably, grew. Early additions were Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Manchester United whilst, before their ongoing involvement was assured, inaugural members Manchester City had first to overcome an instruction not to join from their parent body in Manchester. In many cases, groups of supporters of a team felt they had insufficient numbers to formalise the creation of a club but representatives regularly attended APFSCIL meetings and made donations towards its administrative costs in lieu of a membership fee. Aston Villa, Bristol City, Plymouth and West Bromwich Albion provided early examples of such involvement and in due course went on to become firmly established clubs and full affiliates of the Association.
Sadly, there were some failures. Wolves had a numerically-large supporters' club in London but, despite positive and persistent encouragement from officials of the Association, decided not to affiliate – even taking the extreme measure of passing a resolution at an Extraordinary General Meeting that none of their members should ever attend an APFSCIL meeting! Despite further occasional attempts by the Association during its existence to achieve a change of mind, Wolves' obduracy remains, though the ban on attendance as an observer was later rescinded. Without being quite so extreme, Liverpool, whose membership provided the Association's first Press & Publicity Officer, also decided not to join in the early years but finally climbed on board in 1993 and have been positively involved since.
From these early foundations, there has been steady growth to a current membership of 53, of whom 2 are Associate Members, a category created in 1993 to cope with groups too small to formalise their relationship into a constituted club. Most have been admitted without question but in one or two instances there has been concern about whether an applicant was an officially recognised club or a breakaway group – and if the latter, why they broke away. The policy, established in dealing originally with Manchester United's application (since there appeared to be at least three London-based groups supporting that team), has been to refer any such query to the football club itself for clarification. A similar dilemma occurred when an application was received from the Leeds United Wormwood Scrubs Branch. It transpired that this Branch and an older group in London, which despite being present at the inaugural meeting in 1975 had never joined APFSCIL, were both recognised by the football club. A meeting was held with both branches from which it emerged that the original group was concerned about a clause in the Association's constitution concerning discipline. A revised wording was agreed with them and approved at the next General Meeting in the hope that this would allow the two branches to combine for APFSCIL purposes. However the older group's renewed interest never materialised and the Wormwood Scrubs Branch were alone admitted to membership. An Everton group which joined in 1992 was at pains to make it clear that they were completely different from that which had previously been members between 1975 and 1986.
There have been a few minor losses en route, mostly due to the disbandment of a club or its inability to attend meetings or be involved in the Association's activities. Perhaps the most memorable of these was Meadowbank Thistle. Students at a West London Sixth-Form College decided to form a club and then choose which team to support. Their application to join the Association prompted lively debate about their motives in doing so but they had obtained official recognition by the football club, appointed a personality as their President and travelled occasionally to watch Meadowbank's games. They therefore fell fully within APFSCIL's membership criteria and, to their credit, once elected, participated for several years in the Association's sporting and social activities. Another whose credentials to join prompted debate was the England-based Dynamo Kiev Supporters' Club; in the event their initial interest was never translated into a formal application and contentious debate was averted. Two clubs, still in existence, sadly resigned on points of principle but the hope is that they may return, whilst one other was suspended from membership for disciplinary reasons and has never re-applied.
In 1980, concern began to arise that some clubs were forming and joining APFSCIL simply in order to participate in its various competitions but were less prepared to make a corresponding input to the Association. This was manifested by non-attendance at General Meetings and it became the practice to approach clubs who had missed three consecutive meetings to enquire about their future dedication. Meadowbank Thistle were the first club to fail to react to such promptings and they were expelled in June 1984. At the following year's A.G.M. this practice was formalised by an amendment to the Constitution that "If any club fails to attend 3 consecutive General Meetings, its continued membership shall be subject to a vote at the next General Meeting". (When the Constitution was fully reviewed and rewritten in 1993, a further condition was inserted that a 50% attendance should be achieved each year.)
A futher concern in 1980 caused a group of smaller clubs to meet met privately and subsequently present the opinion at a General Meeting that their special interests were not being adequately represented by the Association. They attracted some sympathy for their views, particularly about the format of meetings. It was an appropriate jolt to the membership as a whole and, in particular, prompted an approach to British Rail about small party travel. Whilst it is interesting to reflect that some of the general concerns expressed then may be worthy of re-examination today, it is reassuring to note that the small clubs in 1980 are now well-established and no longer consider themselves to be "small".