LFC Support Pride Event While the FA do FA...

Posted by Rhi on August 18, 2012, 01:22:45 AM

On the fourth of August I attended a little piece of history. Liverpool FC became the first Premier League club to officially support and participate in a LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) Pride event. Despite the pouring rain, a healthy contingent of club staff, the Liverpool FC Ladies, members of the Supporters Committee, the LFC Foundation (continuing their excellent work in the community) and Liverpool FC supporters turned out to march behind a banner donated by the club.

The march was its usual eccentric, political, colourful and musical celebration of gay rights. It was well received by passers by (an estimated 10,000 of them), from kids in prams to pensioners, from Liverpool fans to Everton fans!  It followed a route from William Brown Street (adjacent to St George's Hall), via Queen Sq, Derby Sq, then down to the Pier Head, and while it really did chuck it down, the atmosphere was brilliant.

I spoke to Paul Amann of the Supporter's Committee, who made clear that the club have been very receptive to all suggestions made through them. Indeed LFC's participation in Pride came through a suggestion made via the committee. Paul put the suggestion to the club, they went away to think about it, and came back to him with the positive response.

Liverpool FC's attendance and support of Liverpool Pride is not insignificant. Less than 6 months ago, Liverpool FC were one of only 16 clubs out of 160 in Englandís seven top divisions who responded positively to a request by Football v Homophobia to help raise awareness of homophobia in football. They were also one of only 6 Premier League clubs who committed to actively helping the campaign.

I am immensely proud of the clubís stance on this, but it is clear that commitment to changing attitudes within football is not shared by far too many others within the game.

It is unlikely in the extreme that gay footballers do not exist. But the biggest obstacle to their coming out is not the supporters (as many would have you believe), and I donít think itís their team-mates. Itís much more entrenched than that. Itís those running the game. Itís the executives of the FAs, the clubs, the Premier League, UEFA, FIFA, and sponsors. On something as difficult as this, the change must come from the top. As it stands, I do not believe that the commitment is there from the very top level to make sure that gay professionals are welcome in the game. That is something that is much more difficult to overcome than a tiny minority of bigots in a crowd of 40,000. I genuinely believe that when a top level professional comes out Ė and it will happen eventually Ė he will be met with a great deal of respect and admiration from a vast majority of supporters and players. The difficult thing for gay professionals is that should they suggest the idea of coming out to their bosses, theyíll be told in no uncertain terms that they must stay in the closet. Sponsors of the player, sponsors of the club, agents worried about their sponsorship/transfer cuts, or managers who might not want a media frenzy around their player/team, might all have reason to prefer for them not to come out.

Especially interesting is the sponsorship aspect. Does having a gay professional at a football club reduce its global appeal or increase it? Thereís no doubt that the club involved would gain a substantial gay following, but would countries where homosexuality is still taboo shun the club? Would players from these countries be willing to play alongside a gay player? And do the powers that be do enough to educate coaches and players worldwide about equality?

These are not issues that can be tackled by a single club taking a stance. Thatís not to lessen Liverpool FCís commitment here Ė on the contrary, it makes it all the more admirable. But FIFA and UEFA must do more to create an environment where EVERYONE is welcome in football. Education is key to that. While it is not beyond the realm of possibility that one very brave player, and one progressive club might put themselves out there on this, the reality is that football is still a homophobic environment. Something needs to change.

Youíll often hear the argument that supporters would make life hell for a player if they found out he was gay. I donít agree. You may get the odd song, but the novelty would soon wear off. At a recent match against Brighton, I heard of a minority of supporters singing unoriginal, homophobic songs. Iím not offended by the songs per se. I donít think the people singing them are being malicious. They just havenít thought about it. It has become so normalised to use gay as an insult. In football and other macho environments especially, itís the go-to insult. Itís not malice. Itís ignorance, naivety, and the fact that for too long, we have accepted the use of homophobia-laced insults as part of every day language. What we need is for people to think about what theyíre singing or saying. The implication of songs such as those the Brighton fans are subjected to weekly, is that they will offend the opposition supporters becauseÖ yíknowÖ who wants to be thought of as gay, right?!? But the Brighton fans arenít bothered by it. And why should they be? All the songs really show is the stupidity of those thinking they are in any way witty, funny or original. The people singing these songs need education in the first instance. They need to be prompted to think about the implications of their shouts. Punishment should be forthcoming if the shouts persist, as in the case of racism, but education is the only way to change attitudes for good.

Thatís really all by-the-by, though. It is the people at the top of the game who need to help change the culture. FIFA. UEFA. The FA.

I had already written much of this piece, when my attention was drawn to a blog written by Liverpool fan Russell Wareing. The blog is called Equality - Not on the FA's watch. It details his correspondence with the FA in regards to their non-coverage of Liverpool FC's support of Pride. The replies he received just reinforce my belief that the authorities are not doing enough. When asked why there was no story on Liverpool FCís involvement in Pride, they firstly claim that they cannot be expected to cover a story if they haven't been informed of it. And here was me thinking the FA's job was to oversee all the football clubs in this country and their activities! Following the curt reply, Russell suggested that now he had informed them of the news, they could put an article up on their website about it. He even offered to write it himself. Yet another curt reply followed.

"As I said before, I have forwarded it to the relevant person and if we are interested in running a story at this stage we will be in touch.

Now I don't know about you, but that reads to me in the same way as it read to Russell. It's basically saying "we don't want to cover this story". There could be several reasons for this. A more paranoid supporter might suggest an anti-LFC agenda. Another might suggest that the FA are simply not interested in making football a welcoming environment for LGBT people. Perhaps they just donít think itís an important issue? Having had no response whatsoever in the past to a complaint on sexism, I'd be inclined to suggest that the FA simply do not care about anyone who isn't them, or in their little club.

That Liverpool FC have broken the mould shows that our club is committed to equality. Perhaps tentatively at first, but certainly more so than anyone else in football at the moment. More so than the authorities who are supposed to be setting the agenda. Make no mistake Ė this is a big statement of inclusion for all supporters of Liverpool FC, and Iíd like to think that if we had a gay player in our ranks that he would be supported in his decision to come out (or not if that was his preference). While the silence is deafening on the matter from the authorities, we can at least be proud of our club for standing up to be counted.

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