Obituary: Jacqui Forster, pioneer of supporter ownership

'Jacqui's fortitude and determination not to give in was an inspiration to all who knew her'

Jacqui Forster, a devoted campaigner for supporter trusts, has passed away at the age of 55, nine years after being diagnosed with cancer.

A legal practitioner, Jacqui dedicated a significant amount of her career to empowering sports club supporters.

Her love of football developed early on, sparked by attending matches of her local club, Altrincham FC, with her father, and she remained committed to the club all her life. She helped to set up a supporters’ trust for the club and later became its vice president and honorary head of diversity and inclusion.

Her involvement in the co-op movement started in 2003, when she joined Supporters Direct. The organisation enables fans to set up democratic co-operatives, known as supporters’ trusts, to gain influence in the running and ownership of their clubs. As head of casework and constitutional affairs, she worked with supporters to purchase and develop community-owned clubs.

In December 2015, she was given just months to live. In spite of this, she continued her tireless work, starting a campaign to encourage women supporters to attend football games. In January 2017 she set up Women at the Game, a movement aimed at bringing women football fans together to attend matches; it was officially launched in May 2017.

Jacqui Forster at the launch of Women at the Game at the Football Hotel in Manchester in May 2017.

The initiative became a platform for women to get together and attend football games as a group, with Jacqui arranging pre-match meet-ups and doing interviews in local and national media to spread the word. She believed in making football accessible to all. The first Women at the Game event at Altrincham FC attracted regular football fans as well as women who had never been to a match, some of whom had been reluctant to attend a game on their own.

Alongside Altrincham FC, Banbury United, Doncaster Rovers and Huddersfield Town Supporters Association embraced the campaign, all hosting Women at the Game events. The initiative also reached the Premier league, with Manchester City organising Women at the Game events for its fans.

Jacqui’s optimism, kindness, and determination were an inspiration for everyone who had the chance to meet her.

“Jacqui was passionate, dedicated, and has been involved in almost every one of the 200 supporters trusts at some stage of their development,” said Ashley Brown, chief executive of Supporters Direct. “Alongside her professionalism was a personality and warmth that will be fondly remembered and sadly missed by all in the movement, and more latterly from her inspirational new venture, Women at the Game.”

Ed Mayo, secretary general of Co-operatives UK, said: “We have lost an exemplary spirit of co-operation, hope and values. What a life she has shared!”

Elaine Dean, friend of Jacqui and former vice chair of Supporters Direct, said: “When a collection was made to help her, she used the money to found Women at the Game, her legacy initiative to encourage women to attend live sporting events. She launched this in Manchester, three days after the Arena bombing, at Gary Neville’s Hotel Football – as the original venue of the Football Museum was within the police cordon. It took more than a terrorist bomb to deter Jacqui!”

Ms Dean first met Jacqui when she joined SD in 2003.

“Jacqui’s fortitude and determination not to give in was an inspiration to all who knew her,” she added. “She travelled widely and ticked things off her ‘bucket list’ on a weekly basis, such as parachuting, attending a Grand Prix, and skiing. She also travelled to New Zealand and Italy and made the most of her time left.”

Altrincham FC also published a touching tribute to Jacqui.

“Altrincham FC is deeply saddened to learn of the premature death of Jacqui Forster, a longstanding supporter of the club and a national figure associated not only with organisations such as Supporters Direct and Women at the Game but also many other initiatives to improve the experience for women, the disabled and minorities in the football environment.

“In recent years Jacqui and her husband Pete have lived directly opposite the J Davidson Stadium and they attended as many matches at home and away as her health permitted. It is particularly poignant that Jacqui’s death comes on the same weekend that Altrincham clinched the EvoStik Northern Premier League title.”

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