After the success of last year’s Stonewall Rainbow Laces campaign, I took a bit of a step back from this year’s activity so that it became less about one person’s involvement and more about football’s commitment as an industry. It was great to see so many clubs and so many players get involved, and I think that’s made it more impactful, and helped us reach more people. It shows that football cares about its supporters and key issues in society, we’ve helped to shine a light on something that affects huge numbers of fans around the world.
Increased involvement in the Premier League
I’m really proud of what QPR did with last season’s campaign, but the majority of Premier League clubs were slow to get involved. This year though, many more Premier League clubs have supported the campaign, and Arsenal have been leading the charge. They worked with Stonewall to create a pretty funny promotional film, and they somehow managed to get Samuel L Jackson, Eve and Lewis Hamilton to turn up for a bit of publicity.
LGBT Supporters’ Groups and Teams
Arsenal have also led the way in helping to celebrate the diversity of their fans by setting up The Gay Gooners – their official LGBT supporters group. It’s been around for just over a year and they were the first club to have an official presence at London’s annual Gay Pride parade. Arsenal staff also got involved in a game against Stonewall FC, one of an increasing number of gay and gay-friendly clubs participating in the London leagues. West Ham have also just set up a similar group, and the number of gay-friendly teams and leagues across the UK is on the rise too. Thanks in no small part to the work of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network.
A gay spokesman for the campaign
We all know that openly gay footballers are about as rare as hen’s teeth, so it was good to see one of the only high profile players to have come out publicly getting involved in the campaign. Thomas Hitzlesperger did a great job as a spokesman: doing the rounds with all the newspapers and media outlets, and giving the campaign the added relevance and integrity that a straight player could never have done. It’s worth stating though that he had to wait until he was retired before he came out, and the only active player I can think of to have come out was Robbie Rogers – who then promptly retired. So while there are big positives to be taken from the success of the campaign and the fact that players from the Arsenal first team all the way down to hungover lads playing Sunday League are supporting the campaign, and that people in the stands are debating the issue, there is still a lot to do. Some of the comments on this blog I wrote a while back prove that!
Casual homophobia on the terraces
Over the years a lot of work has been done within the game to get rid of racism, and we’ve made great strides. 30 years ago racial abuse from the terraces happened every week, but now you can’t imagine anyone using the n-word, chucking bananas on the pitch or making monkey chants at a ground in this country. Not even at Millwall! That sort of behaviour is just no longer accepted by the authorities, and most importantly, it’s not accepted by the fans. But casual verbal homophobia is still rife in the stands. Pull out of a tackle and you’re a ‘poof’. Overplay an injury and you’re told to stop ‘acting like a fucking queer’. And I’ll be honest: it isn’t just the fans. Players use the same type of language on the pitch and on the training ground. It’s this off-the-cuff linguistic intolerance and thoughtlessness that makes the football industry in general, and football stadiums specifically, so intimidating for LGBT fans. I can’t imagine a gay couple feeling so comfortable at the acceptance of the football community that they’d be happy to wander down Wembley Way hand in hand, can you?
Stonewall Fans Survey
A few years back Stonewall conducted a fan survey that looked at anti-gay abuse and the game’s failure to tackle it. It came back with some interesting findings:
• Three in five lesbian, gay or bi-sexual fans think football is anti-gay
• 63% of fans think that fear of homophobic abuse from the stands is part of the reason that there are no openly gay players in English football
• 70% of fans have heard anti-gay abuse on the terraces in the last five years
• 49% of lesbian, bi-sexual and gay fans would be more likely to attend matches if their club tackled anti-gay abuse
It’s certainly a big issue, and something that needs to be tackled in the game. As always I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this, so leave a comment below if you’ve got something to say and vote on the poll too. And if you fancy being part of the solution, you can download the Kick It Out app.