For many West Ham fans when Saturday comes there isn’t too much thinking that goes into travelling to the Boleyn Ground.
Some hop onto the Jubilee line and change at West Ham, others are already on the District line so can head straight to Upton Park and, of course, there are those who drive or walk to our stadium. But what about those who support West Ham from outside the shores of the United Kingdom? It can be the case that, say for one game a season, they fly in on the day of the game, watch the men in claret and blue and get the next available flight home.
There are others who opt to stay in a hotel or apartment to make sure they absorb every moment of their stay in East London but in all honesty, perhaps don’t get the authentic West Ham experience. ‘What if there was another way?’ was the question Luke Verbeek asked himself before founding HomeFans, which launched its website at the start of February and hopes to launch its first prototype of its new platform by the end of June.
I came up with this concept last summer during my visit in England for a month,’ he told Blowing Bubbles. ‘I stayed with a local host during my stay and experienced something different instead of staying in a hotel or apartment and this led to me founding HomeFans. ‘I was looking for something different for football fans around the world who want to meet up with local fans from their favourite club and at the same time, create a system that would allow locals to earn some extra income by simply being a great fan and host visiting fans of their own club.
‘Our platform is designed to be simple to use, for locals and for travelling fans. HomeFans features club and sport-location capabilities that let you find the local people you want to look for, as well as ranking and reviews that let you scope the best options in your area.’ As an avid football fan living in the Netherlands, Luke knows all too well about the ‘faceless’ budget hotels and hostels many international football fans stay at on match days.
‘There was no connection with local fans and the prices were often ridiculous,’ he continued. ‘At the same time, whenever we travelled to watch football matches in Europe, we never really knew anyone in the local area. Local people who could show us around, connect with them and most importantly share football experiences with them.
‘To solve all these problems, we started HomeFans – we wanted to create a platform that would make it very simple and safe for travellers and football fans to find and book a place to stay with a local fan anywhere in the world, and for homeowners to be able to rent out their place in a hassle-free way. Local fans in London can host visiting Hammers to show them around and give them an authentic football experience.
HomeFans’ new online booking platform will allow travelling fans to book a room in a local fan’s home on a nightly basis and in all of their bookings the local host will be present, which enhances the guest’s football experience with their hospitality and know-how of the local culture, community and football club.
‘It’s very much an affordable alternative to hotels who raise their prices on match days and to support the volume of fans coming to see their favourite club,’ Luke said. ‘We are offering local fans the opportunity to open their doors to our visitors and rent out their spare space to earn some extra money. Our goal is to build a global trusted football community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodation around the world to stay with like-minded local fans.’
As for the criteria of football fan HomeFans are looking for, Luke replied: ‘Our hosts come from all walks of life. They include young and old, singles, couples and families with children, rural and urban, male and female. The most important thing is that you love football and love meeting other fans as well. ‘Football is about people, because people turn the location into a culture, time into experience and strangers into friends.
‘HomeFans experiences offer a true value stay, taking you to the heart of the football destination you’re visiting, showing you what it’s really like to live there. ‘‘People can choose their destination, area and enter selected dates. They’ll see a list of available hosts, then they need to select the homestay they like best and send a booking request to the host.
‘They can send a message to as many hosts as they like and use the message system to find out any additional information they need and find out if the host or guest is the right fit for them. They can also contact the host using our video call feature, which allows them to see and speak directly with their host or guest face to face online before they book or accept a booking. Once they’ve completed their booking, they’ll receive a confirmation email immediately with your hosts full address and contact details.’
Luke and the rest of the HomeFans team are focusing on four clubs at the moment; West Ham, Arsenal, Manchester United and Celtic. They are currently working with fan groups associated with each club to ensure they start the new season with a bang. ‘To make this happen we need your support as this is created by fans for fans to experience something different. ‘We have more than 200 host fans around the world who have registered their spare room on HomeFans in such a short space of time and more and more people are joining every day which is great to see as we want to connect football fans with each other.
‘We’ve already got some local fans in London for West Ham United which is great, but we hope to see a lot more signing up to become a local host in the next few months. ‘People who want to sign up can do so by registering on our website and creating their own profiles to join the community.
‘We also received more than 300 guest applications within three months from football fans who want to use this service in the future. Once our platform is launched we expect that more fans will follow and sign up on our new website during the summer before the start of the new season.
The feedback already received about HomeFans has completely surprised Luke and the rest of his team. ‘I didn’t realise that people loved this concept so much,’ he said. ‘This is just a confirmation that we’re doing the right thing and that’s connecting people. ‘All the support and positive feedback is motivating us to do more and achieve more for our community. We have met some amazing people within our community and we hope we can welcome some other great fans as well.
‘We are looking forward to see some great stories next season and we hope a lot of people make new friends through our HomeFans network.’ As for being a host and a guest, the benefits of being part of HomeFans are endless. ‘For hosts, the benefits are accommodating like-minded fans who’ve registered on HomeFans, meet people from around the world, share experiences and make some money.
‘As for guests, when you stay in a homestay you experience something that you won’t in other forms of accommodation, not only do you meet the local fans – you get to live with them too. It’s a way to live a destination, not just visit it. ‘All our hosts include a light breakfast in the per room price (some homestays can provide other meals too by prior arrangement).
‘The best thing about this is that you’ll share a meal with your hosts and learn more about the destination and local culture first-hand from them. ‘You can’t go to Madrid without visiting Santiago Bernabeu or Vincente Calderon, or visit London and not get your picture taken at the local bars around the stadium. They’re part of the experience. “But wouldn’t it be great to see parts of a local area that only the locals know about? Our hosts will be able to tell their guests about those hidden secrets.
‘As the HomeFans idea spreads, you’ll help local people earn themselves an income, you’ll help visiting fans get more deeply involved when they visit your local area. ‘If you have a spare room, enjoy meeting new people and want to earn some extra money? If the answer is yes, hosting visiting Hammers in your home could be perfect for you. If you’re a football fan and if you want to help us in the next months invite your friends to join HomeFans.”
As for their aim’s for the upcoming season, Luke continued: “We want to spread the word about HomeFans, get more local hosts and guests to join our community, but the most important thing is that we want to get some amazing stories from people who have met and shared some great memories with each other through HomeFans. That’s what it’s all about for us.
‘We’re looking to get more and more people on our platform when it’s launched. With our new system it’s going to be exciting to see how people search, discover and book on it. And beyond next season? ‘Up until now, as we’ve worked to develop and create the perfect HomeFans model and we’ve mostly focused on football fans in Europe. But that’s about to change.
‘Soon, we’ll be expanding to other parts in the world. From there, we want to branch out into other major football events, like the European Championship and the World Cup. To discover more visit http://www.HomeFans. net. You can also find HomeFans on Twitter (@HomeFanssupport) and on Facebook by searching for the official HomeFans page.