Supporters Club Week kicks off on Arsenal.com today as we pay tribute to the devoted fans who follow Arsenal from all over the United Kingdom and from all corners of the globe.

Clubs as local as Maidstone and as far afield as Italy will be featured on the website this week. You can read about their backgrounds, the events they organise and their most memorable Arsenal trips. There will also be video footage and pictures to enjoy from a number of Supporters Clubs.

We kick off by speaking to Arsenal's primary contact with the Supporters Clubs, Supporters Liaison Officer Jill Smith.

Jill, tell us about your role at the Club?

My role is to look after the Supporters Clubs and my responsibility when I came to Arsenal was to extend our supporter base. Everyone was aware that we had supporters all over the world but no one had actually co-ordinated it. There was no official status for Supporters Club but now we have set down ground rules. I started this role in 2001. We had one recognised club around the corner and seven or eight which had good contact with Arsenal. Now we have in excess of 100 so it has built up quite dramatically.

What kind of requests do you get from Supporters Clubs?

On a daily basis the most important thing they want is tickets, they want to be able to get to matches. Various Clubs are allowed to apply for bulk purchases for their members and get a discount from the shop, so we'll do a Home Shopping order. Generally speaking if they have any query regarding any department or anything which is going on with their members then they go via me and I try to either redirect them or get to the bottom of it myself.

We have events like the end-of-season tournament, they get to present Player of the Season awards, so there's always something else ticking over at all times. We have a meeting with them all twice-yearly and this year we're really getting into the extranet so hopefully that will allow us to maintain contact easily. Using the extranet makes it the responsibility of the Clubs to keep in touch with us. Because of that communications are better with the club and they can also communicate with other Supporters Clubs via a forum.

What is your relationship like with the Clubs?

I'd like to think it's a good relationship. They all knew me anyway so it just got stronger and stronger. They know I go to all the games so they can find me if they need me, I'm not just some mysterious woman working in an office! I feel exactly the same way as they do about the team so that gives me an advantage. I'm their contact with the Club so they get to know me. When they come over I always invite them to pop in.

Supporters Clubs often travel to Emirates Stadium. Do you ever visit Clubs overseas?

I've just got back from Norway, they have the biggest Supporters Club by a long shot with 5,000 members. They had our Ex-Pro and Celebrity team over there and a whole fun day. I've been to Malta and Cyprus and I'd like to get to Ireland in the next few months.

Do all big clubs have Supporters Liaison Officers?

No. Manchester United and Liverpool do, Chelsea I think are starting, but you need a large overseas following to justify it.

What is a typical working day like for you?

A typical day starts with going through all the e-mails. Then I go through all the ticketing which needs doing. Then I would spend some time looking at applications for new Supporters Clubs. Then sometimes a big issue crops up, like the national flags last season. It is very busy. Clubs expect you to be constantly there for them and you have to deal with all sorts of different nationalities, different characters. On a matchday it is enjoyable, we deal with phone calls about lost tickets, delayed coaches, and then I go in our kiosk opposite the stadium to field any last-minute issues. But the second the match starts, I am glued to it.

Are you an Arsenal fan, Jill?

I'm an Arsenal fanatic and I've been going since 1968. My mum and dad both come from round here so it was indoctrinated into me. Of course it was a different time and era. My dad wouldn't take me to football because he thought it was no place for a woman, so I had to wait until I'd left school. Within a couple of days of leaving school I bought myself a ticket and got a couple of friends to come along with me. It was hard to find other Arsenal fans because I lived in Ilford, close to West Ham, but I've been devoted to Arsenal for 40 years. In the Double year of 1970/71 I went home and away and I've done that ever since.

What's the best thing about your job?

I think the best thing is establishing good relationships with people, building that close rapport with all kinds of supporters all over the world. Also I can keep my passion for Arsenal burning. I'm incredibly lucky to work in something which is a massive passion for me. It makes it easy to get up in the morning because it's my hobby.



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9 Jul 2007