Football players up and down the country this last weekend played their part in helping to stamp out homophobia in football, and to some extent, sport in general. Compared to other public domains, sport still has less LGBT representatives than most, and this applies especially to football.
Players from clubs from every division and every part of the country laced up their boots with ‘Rainbow Laces’ to show their support for stopping homophobic attitudes in football. As a gay man and a football fan, I know that homophobia still exists in some forms in football.
After going to watch my hometown team, Lincoln City playing Braintree Town at home, I heard some homophobic comments from the stands, and although it was not directed at an openly gay player and by many is seen as the banter of the terraces, it still is homophobic. Comments such as ‘Stop playing like a pansy’ or ‘You’re not injured! Get up you fairy’ should have no place in any arena of life, not even a football stadium.
Fans and players of Brighton and Hove Albion have also been subjected to homophobic chanting over many years due to Brighton’s connections to the gay community. In the 2012/13 season, Brighton and Hove Albion submitted a study to the FA, the Football League and the Football Supporters Federation showing Brighton fans suffered homophobic abuse from 72% of opponents in that season, in 70% of away games and in 57% of all matches. This included allegations of chanting, gestures by players and threats made to supporters leaving a game. The report, which go into detail and the responses from the opposition clubs involved, states: “Some of the chants are fairly mild (“does your boyfriend know you are here”) and some more unpleasant (“you’re just a town full of faggots”).
They are homophobic whether they are directed at a gay person or a straight person and they do cut to the bone, often worse than any type of physical injury. Whether they are heard by a player or fan who is struggling with their sexuality or if they are out and proud, it still hurts. There is also the matter that if this taunts directed at fans and players were about the colour of their skin, the chants would never be considered acceptable in the game today.
There is a glimmer on the horizon. After a string of personalities from other sports coming out such as diver Tom Daley, former rugby star Gareth Thomas, Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, American Football star Michael Sam or Olympic boxer Nicola Adams; football is finally beginning to catch up.
Recently Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former German international and Aston Villa player, came out after retiring from football in 2013, and Robbie Rogers, US international and former Leeds United player, retired and came out in 2013 but then re-started his career playing for LA Galaxy in the United States. One of the poster boys for gay footballers is Anton Hysén, son of the former Liverpool player Glenn Hysén, who came out in 2011. He is currently playing for Myrtle Beach FC in the USA.
There is also a number of football stars in the women’s game who have publically come out, most recently Casey Stoney, the former England and Lincoln Ladies captain, who is currently expecting twins with her partner Megan Harris, who also played for Lincoln Ladies.
But currently, there is only one openly gay male player in English football. His name is Liam Davis who plays for Gainsborough Trinity and he has been open about his sexuality for five years. Before the Rainbow Laces weekend, BBC Newsbeat interviewed the 23 year-old winger and he said that he wanted the players and clubs to have the Rainbow Laces for a whole season to show true support for stamping out homophobia in football.
With the Rainbow Laces, it is a sign that football is making headway and also that Liverpool FC made history as being the first Premier League club to take part in a gay pride parade at the 2012 Liverpool Pride event shows that clubs are being more inclusive, but I have to agree with Liam Davis and say that the Rainbow Laces campaign should last a whole season.
I am very proud that Liam Davis is playing for a club in my home county of Lincolnshire, but I have to say I hope he is not the last gay footballer to be out and proud in the English leagues.