Pride & Passion with P&P: Nicola Garforth
In the latest feature of Pride & Passion with P&P, and on International Women's Day, we caught up Edinburgh Rugby Fans Group co-founder Nicola Garfoth who discusses the important role played by the ever-growing online community, and the impact it continues to have on the club's female fanbase.
Pride & Passion brings supporters stories to life, as we hear their reasons in choosing to #BackYourBurgh. Brought to you Main Club Sponsor Principal & Prosper, find out how you can receive impartial financial advice today.
Where do you support the club from?
A wee village north of Perth!
What was the first Edinburgh Rugby match you attended and why did you decided to become a supporter?
It was the pre-season friendly vs Sale Sharks in 2017.
I have always enjoyed rugby and kept an eye on club level but having attended a couple of Warriors matches when I lived in Glasgow, I wasn’t sure if it was for me as I felt quite uncomfortable there.
I watched the Lions Tour in 2017 and it really re-kindled my love of the sport and on the spur of the moment I bought a season ticket for Edinburgh. I didn’t know anyone who was a fan, I had no idea what to expect and I was going to be attending alone so it was a pretty big step.
I went to that first match and absolutely loved it. Since that day I have only missed one match (pre-Covid) and now have managed to get my husband involved so he attends too!
You formed the Edinburgh Rugby Fans Group – an ever-growing online supporters club – that has really taken off in the last few seasons. Can you share some insight into how it has grown so quickly and how it has acted as a real hub for Edinburgh Rugby supporters to engage with each other?
I think the group filled a gap that no one had really realised was there. I remember when we first started it we had a lot of comments about finally having a place of our own to chat, for so long chat in Scotland Groups had been dominated by Warriors fans, it finally felt like we could share our passion without judgement.
The way the fans also embraced our ethos about positivity and our strict line regarding rudeness. We lost some members due to the way we decided to enforce the rules but if these people wanted a place to be rude about the team then we don’t really want them anyway.
I think we really saw the strength of our online hub during lockdown. We were supporting each other through some of the hardest times we have ever encountered. We kept really active and, thanks to the club, we were able to run some competitions and challenges that brought people together and gave us a chance to laugh and enjoy ourselves.
When the club did the personalised messages for fans we shared these with each other so you weren’t just seeing your own message but seeing other players encouraging other members and that was amazing. It let us see that our guys were doing ok but also seeing our group members so happy.
The work you’ve done with the Edinburgh Rugby Fans Group is brilliant – the page is a real hive of support for the club. What’s it like being a female role-model in the Edinburgh Rugby supporter space?
It was tough initially because the group was created by two females (myself and Kirstie Cooper) and neither of us were well known in the Edinburgh Rugby community. Here we were as relative newbies to the community (although Kirstie has supported Edinburgh basically forever) and we were laying down the law as such in this group.
We had created the group as a place for us to share our love of Edinburgh Rugby so we had to stick by our rules and not allow ourselves to be railroaded, I have to admit that some fans definitely thought they could bully the girls in to running it their way, I think they learned fairly early on that we may be girls but we are definitely not going to be bullied.
Now I would say we get a lot more respect, we’ve built up a bond with some of the players and their families along with a strong bond with the club and members respect that.
I often find now that I am the one that people ask for advice on things to do with the club and the fact I’m female doesn’t even come in to it. I think I’m just Nicola to everyone now and not defined by being female. I think they all know I’m slightly crazy but in a good way. I would defend our club and players to the end of the earth!
It’s great to see so many female supporters expressing their voice and really investing their passion and time into the club – do you think that number is growing?
I think it is growing and I think as the numbers grow so the confidence of those already attending grows.
There are a lot of awesome fans who are females and they attend because they are fans of the game not just because they have been forced to come by their partners, a lot come on their own and it’s great connecting with them as they appreciate being taken seriously as fans.
Not all of us (I include myself in this) are experts on the laws of rugby but in all honesty neither are a large chunk of the men who attend the matches so I encourage everyone not to let that phase you. Just enjoy the match and you will pick things up and learn.
One thing that we encourage in the group is to ask questions and a number of our female fans (and no doubt a fair few male) have found this invaluable. No one ridicules you for asking a “silly” question and we genuinely have some very knowledgeable members in the group who are always willing to help.
As you know, we have lots of activities for young rugby fans to get involved in off and on the pitch. How can we encourage more young girls to experience rugby from a young age?
I think as long as they get the same opportunities as the boys they would love it. I think some girls can be a little shyer and it may be harder for them to approach someone like Pierre Schoeman who is larger than life both in size and personality but if they can be encouraged that the guys are not scary (at least not off the pitch) and are friendly to approach then they would be more excited to get involved
I’d also say bring back Flinty, or have another mascot when it's possible. One of my friends is a Leinster fan and her little girl is totally in love with their mascot!
As we move in to the new stadium, there will be a huge focus on how we present our matchday experience as a whole. How do you think the club can develop or enhance the experience for our female fans?
Make sure there is plenty of toilets for the girls, often we end up with large queues and in all honesty shared facilities really don’t work for us. It’s the thing I think we complain about the most!
I would also like to see more female rugby stars being interviewed pitch side before the match or at half time from time to time, not every week but just once in a while.
What, if anything, can male athletes do to encourage an increase in the female fanbase?
I think be aware of them. The younger girls may be shy (some of us who are older are too) so look for a chance to say hello to them or crouch down to their level to talk to them, I saw Allan Dell do that once with some kids and it made such a difference.
Even just a smile or a little wave can make a lot of difference. I think sometimes the players underestimate how much a little gesture can mean to a fan.
Do you think there is an imbalance in how male and female rugby fans are viewed?
I think in society as a whole there is an imbalance, there are still archaic views that women don’t have the capacity to understand the sport and should always bow to a mans knowledge but thankfully we don’t see much of that around our fanbase.
All the fans in our group are great and supportive of each other so I would say our fanbase has a good balance.
What has been your proudest moment as an Edinburgh Rugby supporter and as a proud member of the Edinburgh Rugby Fans Group?
For me individually it was the moment when the club's Managing Director Doug Struth came up to me pitchside and told me that I was doing a great job. He had seen what we were doing in the group and had popped out from his match day duties and came over to say well done.
I was a little starstruck so probably made no sense in response but he messaged me later and I apologised for not verbalising my response better. It still surprises me when people recognise me as I’ve been a very shy person all my life and never wanted to be the focus of attention but Edinburgh Rugby have spurred me on to be braver than I ever thought I could be.
As a group, it has to be sponsoring players. It has been so amazing to see the response to this, from something that started as a small idea last year of sponsoring one of our players as a group to sponsoring 17 players this year (20 in total if we count last years three players) has been unbelievable.
The generosity of some of our members has astounded me, in all honesty some have contributed enough that they could have sponsored a player all on their own but they felt it meant more coming from the group. It is an amazing achievement by our members.
What are you most looking forward to about moving into our new home and how special will that first game be for all supporters connected to the club?
I can’t wait to sit in our new stadium and cheer on the lads. I feel like we will be so close to the action that we will almost be able to smell the deep heat. I can’t wait for us to find our voice in our purpose built stadium and to cheer and chant.
I can’t wait to shout Schooooo as loud as I can and to scream my head off when we score a try. It is going to be amazing!
That first match is going to be something else, we will all be a bit lost as we don’t know the stadium and will be trying to find our friends to catch up but then the match will start and we will all be engrossed and will love every second. I can't wait!
Finally, do you have a message to any female rugby fans that are looking to get involved with the club, but perhaps aren’t sure what to expect?
If I can do it then anyone can. I am shy and struggle with anxiety but Edinburgh Rugby has really brought out the best in me. If you want to get involved join our Edinburgh Rugby Fans group on Facebook, have a chat with our members, come meet up with us at a match or message me and I will happily talk to you and try to help.
We genuinely have the friendliest bunch of people and we welcome everyone, if you don’t know anyone I’ll introduce you to some people and then you will have friends for life. Go for it, you won’t regret it.