Tuesday, 25 December 2012
Anders Lindegaard (Manchester United goalkeeper) recently wrote a blog about football needing a "gay hero". He also said that "homosexuality in football is a taboo subject".
I agree with him that it is a taboo. Football is, like many other sports, seen by some as a sport that is to be played by 'real men' who are into swigging beer, hanging out with the lads and shagging girls. Yet sport is hobby or profession that knows no bounds of gender, age, race, religion or sexual orientation.
The examples set by those in the professional game often filter down to grass roots football. Bad language; abuse between players and towards match officials; diving and simulation. Children and adults see this week in, week out on TV and it's soon replicated on parks and playgrounds up and down the country.
I'm not suggesting for one second that if a high profile professional footballer were to come out as gay it would solve all our problems. To date I'm only aware of two openly gay professional footballers (Justin Fashanu and Anton Hysen). Instead, maybe we should look to those who are openly gay and participate in grass roots football all over the UK and the world, and reverse the trend of professional football setting the example.
In August 2011 I moved from Birmingham to London. This was by far the biggest decision of my life and one that came with a great degree of nervousness. It's certainly not easy to make friends in a new city but luckily I had a few good people around me to make my life enjoyable.
After a year I decided to go and train with the London Titans, a gay friendly football team in South West London. I'd known about them for a while but I got in touch and went training a week later. Hand on heart it's one of the best decisions I've ever made.
Now for those who think that homosexuality in football is a taboo, they'd probably expect that I turned up to find a group of mincy, camp queens kicking a ball around whilst taking due care not to mess up their hair and drinking a Starbucks latte or a pina colada. How wrong they'd be! I played football as a kid from a young age, right through my teens and into adulthood. I knew what a 'straight' team was like - how they trained and the banter they had. This was no different. The lads were lads. They could run, they could play, and my god could they have banter! They welcomed me with open arms and 5 months on I feel like I've been a part of them for years.
Last season the Titans played in the GFSN League of which we've been champions for the last two years. This season we decided to continue in this league and also enter into the Sportsmans League (to most this would be classed as a 'straight' league). A bold move some would say, but not to us. As I pointed out, sport is something that knows no bounds of sexuality, so why should we restrict ourselves to only playing in a gay friendly league?
We got a few games and wins under our belts and our confidence was growing. We were competing against other teams, scoring goals and getting results, all without the aid of handbags, high heels and limp wrists. It was going so well. Then one week we came up against it.
Our opposition had clearly done a little research, found out we were a gay friendly team and decided to use this against us. From the first to the last whistle homophobic abuse was endured. One of our players was spat at and another punched in the face (although these actions can't be attributed purely to the fact that they were gay). That aside, the team came back from being 0-2 down to win
3-2. The teams maturity, determination and professionalism shone through and proved that our reason for being in this league is to play football and win games, as well as hoping to remove peoples ignorant, bigoted views around gay men not being able to play, or be a part of, football.
To the Titans, the social aspect of being a team is just as important as the football. We form friendships, relationships, and a comradery that's so strong it'll rarely be broken. This was demonstrated by the match described above. These players are now my friends as well as being my hero's. They've accepted me for who I am, befriended me and given me a reason for staying in London that was previously dwindling.
We're not the only gay friendly team in the UK. There are many more up and down the UK and across the world, each with their own hero's who have the courage and confidence to be open about their sexuality and partake in a sport which they love and enjoy. After all, is that not what sport is about?
The Titans regularly work with charities, supporting them in raising awareness of gay life and helping those less fortunate. Some of our players also play an active role in the fight against homophobia in football. It's a shame we have to use the word 'fight', but it is deemed as such.
Whilst I don't expect others to see our players as hero's, I'd encourage any man or woman who wants to be a part of sport to get involved with teams like the Titans and raise awareness of us. I'd also challenge those who believe in the taboo to come along and try to prove that all I have written here is a pile of crap! Strength in numbers will only help bolster our voice, and until we remove the taboo of homophobia in football, we'll continue to get up every Sunday morning, standing up for what we believe in and finding the back of the net.
As for me, I'll be with my hero's every step of the journey, and I know they'll be with me too!