How Ever­ton and West Ham are help­ing to kick ho­mo­pho­bia out of sport

Pride Life Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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”


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.


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