GIVING THE BOOT TO HOMOPHOBIA
How Everton and West Ham are helping to kick homophobia out of sport
Over a quadragintillion* to one – that’s the odds that there are no gay or bisexual professional footballers in the UK. And yet there hasn’t been an out gay pro player since Justin Fashanu in the 1980s. In any other sector of work this is unheard of – yet for years in football it’s been quietly accepted, with anti-gay language on the pitch an unwelcome guest at many matches.
So in 2009, when Stonewall asked football fans how they’d react if there was a gay player on their team, it surprised some that two thirds would feel comfortable if a player in their club came out. Most worryingly for the sport, seven in ten fans who’d attended matches in the last five years had heard anti-gay language and abuse on the terraces. With such a homophobic environment hanging over the sport it was little surprise that voices at all levels in the sporting community said that this must change.
Fast forward to 2013 and Stonewall teamed up with Paddy Power to give all those professional footballers who wanted to show their support for gay players the opportunity to do so. The idea was simple; take a pair of Rainbow Laces, thread them into your boots, play a game in them. No-one was to be forced to wear them, the laces had been trialled and met professional footballing kit requirements and – as they were supplied free to all 134 professional clubs in the UK – it didn’t cost clubs or players a penny. Add in a cheeky catchphrase plus support from Joey Barton and the scene was set for the highest profile campaign to date to make football more gay-friendly.
Players from 52 different professional clubs – 40 per cent of the total number of UK clubs– wore Rainbow Laces. The media devoured the story. Coverage appeared in tabloid and broadsheet newspapers alike, as well as across regional and national TV, including Match of the Day and BT Sports Football Show. Sporting heroes including Gary Lineker, Boris Becker, Claire Balding, Gareth Thomas and Matt LeTissier all publicly threw their weight behind the campaign.
Disappointingly, barely days after the campaign, a professional player used homophobic language to abuse a gay person on Twitter. No campaign, no matter how effective, was ever going to rid football of homophobia overnight. But the level of support shows that change isn’t just needed – but wanted. This is a future for football to aspire to, when it truly can become the beautiful game for the whole country.
*That’s 1 in 2.29 x 10^134 – or 1 in 22,947,321,563,647,480,000,000,000,00 0,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,00 0,000,000,000,000!
West Ham United’s first team squad once again showed their support for inclusion in football when they backed Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign.
The players wore the laces in their boots in training sessions at their Chadwell Heath base in the run-up to the home fixture with Everton, adding to the support they have already given the Football v Homophobia campaign.
First team skipper Kevin Nolan led the way and emphasised that the Hammers have an important role to play in helping to stamp out discrimination.
He said: “We are all supporting this campaign. As a team, we spoke about how we wanted to support it in the best way and we decided to wear the laces in our boots for training.
“All the lads are fully supportive of it and all volunteered to wear the laces in training, to help push the message that all forms of discrimination should be kicked out of all sports, not just football.
“We were all passionate about supporting it and we hope that it sends out a message that once again, there is no place for discrimination in football and all sport.”
“Seven in ten fans had heard anti-gay language and abuse on the terraces”
TOFFEES SWEET ON EQUALITY
Premier League football club Everton put in a tackle on homophobia recently when they pledged their support to a campaign aiming to eradicate the issue from the sport.
Everton’s captain, England international Phil Jagielka, and other members of the first-team squad wore rainbow laces in their boots during the club’s Premier League fixture against West Ham United in support of the “Right Behind Gay Footballers” initiative.
The campaign, organised by Everton’s online betting and gaming partner, Paddy Power, and gay rights charity Stonewall, aims to highlight the plight of gay footballers, who the charity believes remain fearful of the repercussions coming out could have on their careers and personal lives.
Speaking about wearing the rainbow laces and his club’s stance on equality, 31-year-old Jagielka, said: “For me and the rest of the lads at Everton, a player’s sexuality is not important, but their ability on the pitch is.
“We don’t tolerate discrimination of any kind at Everton and the whole club works hard to get that message out to the fans.”
Everton are committed to supporting all members of the community, regardless of their race, gender, creed or sexual orientation.
And Phil continued: “No one should feel that they can’t be themselves – on or off the pitch – so that is why we supported this initiative.”
In 2012 the Premier League signed the Government’s Charter Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Sport on behalf of all 20 Premier League clubs, including Everton. This move was actioned at a shareholders’ meeting, with representatives of each club in attendance.
Discrimination of any form is not tolerated at Everton’s Goodison Park home and the club operates a dedicated phone and text line for supporters to report any incidents of abuse witnessed on match days.
Through the club’s official charity, Everton in the Community, “the Blues” also work with members of the LGBT community and, for the past two years, have supported and taken part in Liverpool’s Gay Pride event.
The charity is continuously working hard to widen its reach and develop new programmes to help those most vulnerable and isolated in our community.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: EVERTON’S LEIGHTON BAINES; WEST HAM’S JAMES COLLINS; EVERTON’S PHIL JAGIELKA