Football is the most beautiful game in the world. An environment where you can express yourself, be free and be part of a worldwide community. Well maybe if you are a straight male this is what football is like but what about the challenges faced by those who are minorities in the sport, girls, homosexuals and different ethnic groups, is football a place where these groups feel they can express themselves, be free and do they feel included in the footballing community. I reached out to a number of individuals that were in this demographic and only one individual was willing to talk about football through their eyes.
The individual that responded to me was Murray from Cardiff, he is the Chairman of a team in Cardiff called the Cardiff Dragons, he has experience on what it is like to play as a minority and also the knowledge of work that is going around the country and he was kind enough to answer a few questions about his team and the current setup of LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) football in the UK and across the world.
-What is the ethos of the Cardiff Dragons?
At Cardiff Dragons we aim to offer a safe environment for any LGBT+ people who wish to play in or support football. We aim to provide football for all ages, genders, sexual orientation and abilities (football for all). We are a group run by the LGBT community for the LGBT community where inclusion is key. We have members who identify as gay, straight, bisexual and transgender of all genders.
– Has anyone in the club played for another club not in the “GSFN” (Gay Football Social Network) whilst being openly gay? If not why? And if yes then was there any problems faced?
Fortunately we don’t really have any horror stories from previous experiences at clubs, or none that I am aware of. The main issues really involved being uncomfortable at clubs people were at, because of their sexuality and a fear of being gay and not accepted. Something which is gradually changing as time is going by.
A few years ago, when players who play for our club did play in clubs outside of ourselves and GFSN sides, most would have hidden the fact they were gay, I know that I did. Players hid their sexual orientation so that they could play and didn’t have to worry about what teammates thought. The reason for this was fear of not being accepted. Players felt uncomfortable and feared being openly gay footballers within clubs. Nobody wants to be the odd one out or bullied for being who they are, and as society had a culture to bully individuals for being gay then football teams would too. This is really where clubs such as ourselves have come from, people requiring a safe place to be openly gay and to play football. People came together via social media and by their own will to just play football rather than by any initiative.
I hid my sexuality because I did not feel comfortable in the footballing environment I experienced. I was young, confused and I felt it not culturally acceptable in my area to be openly gay and play football.
Many older players spoke of how bad schools were for them and the negative experiences they encountered towards gay people, particularly in PE.
Nowadays things are becoming increasingly different in our experience, much in line with the developing culture of this country.
If you look at this country over the past 100 years, there have been massive cultural changes. 100 years ago, women could not vote. Generations were brought up to be racist, homophobic, anti-abortion, anti-divorce. All views that are now deemed unacceptable by society in general. It seems to be similar with football as the trends in society have changed, football has followed.
We now seem to be meeting players who are not worried about being gay and are playing in regular football teams. These players are starting to no longer feel it necessary to segregate themselves, and feel much freer to follow their ambitions within football. Young people are being taught to accept everyone, and this is starting to filter through into football. People are less scared of people being different. The younger generations seem much more likely to accept a player based on their footballing ability or the person themselves ahead of their sexual orientation. On a number of occasions we have run into players who are openly gay or bisexual, who are happy with their current football lives playing for regular teams. We have players at our club who play for straight teams as well as for ourselves. These players are at very least open to teammates, if not coaches.
Our long term existence as fully segregated football clubs is likely to be limited, something which is surely a positive step for football. There was a necessity for segregated clubs but there are becoming fewer reasons for segregation. Our clubs will still exist as they are good for the LGBT communities around the country and competition will likely still take place between clubs.
We have recently entered a separate club into Sunday League football in Cardiff and the reception has only been good to this point. The NGB’s have been helpful and encouraging to us and our opponents seem to view us as another team to beat rather than “the gay team”. I think there are 5 gay/gay friendly teams in the country currently entered into local leagues, Stonewall FC being the most famous of the clubs competing in the FA Middlesex County League as part of the FA Non-League Pyramid.
– What can be done by the national governing bodies and the media to improve the playing experience for gay teams and players?
NGBs and media in Britain are doing ok at the moment, not something that we would probably say 10 years ago. Each year, it feels as though awareness of the issue is increasing, and is being raised and covered by the media. The NGBs are taking notice and are supporting campaigns like Football vs Homophobia and Rainbow Laces. There are equality guidelines for NGBs and football clubs as well, which are encouraging clubs to explore ways to get more LGBT+ people involved with football clubs. We ourselves have had conversations and meetings with Cardiff City recently and have had good support from them also. We are currently in talks about potential collaborative projects in the future. The WFA & SWFA have been supportive to us as the FA have been in England to other GFSN clubs.
One negative rule GFSN clubs experience is that there is a rule regarding mixed gender football, and as a result our GFSN clubs cannot be affiliated with the WFA, SFA or FA. The rule is that men and women cannot play in teams together over the age of 18, which we do in our GFSN League. Last summer, for us to enter the Sunday League, we had to set up a whole new club, with new bank accounts, committee etc. Football associations in this country are quite supportive on this issue, but cannot change the rules due to UEFA / FIFA regulations.
Whilst football in Britain is moving forward, and is gradually overcoming the inclusion and equality issue for LGBT people, it is worth noting that Britain is one of the leaders in the world on this front and globally this is not always the case.
-Do you feel like football is currently an environment where you can express yourself, be free and be part of a worldwide community?
Increasingly so, this year we have ventured into Sunday League football, and have been received really well by the governing bodies, officials and opposing teams. This is not something that we would have been confident of doing 10 years ago. I always say that 10 years ago, clubs like ourselves were essential in order for LGBT+ people to play in, now is the time that things have begun to move on and teams and players can begin to integrate into mainstream leagues. The days of general prejudices and bigotry in society become more and more in the past as the years go by and this is similar in football.
Eventually, there could be gay footballers playing at high levels, who come out and play freely, if they feel they want or need to do so. I think this country would have an initial media and public debate, initial abuse at matches, followed by a general acceptance. If for example the next Gareth Bale was gay and played the way he does for Wales, I don’t think many people would care too much about their sexuality.
Globally I expect this isn’t the case and unless cultures change in individual countries, FIFA and governing bodies have little hope of global success on this front in the near future. World football is years behind British football.
There will still be homophobia in football for a number of years to come, but it is starting to change. The LGBT clubs and players ultimately just really enjoy playing football and love the beautiful game.
After speaking with Murray it has opened my eyes to the great work that is going on in the UK to enable football to become truly an inclusive sport for all, but at the same time found it hard to believe that people have had difficulties in be themselves when playing and still continue do so in some situations. Admittedly the culture is changing but this change is still slow, until football can accept everyone regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender can we really continue to brag about being the world’s sport when we still allow people who are involved in it have an issue with half of the world playing.
A quote for the late Nelson Mandela “Sports has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sports can create hope, where there was once only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination”. We have this power as football fans and it should not be used in vein, use the power that football has all over the world to meet new people and learn about new ways of life, open yourself up to become a better person and make the game we love a better place.
By James Snook, TFN Columnist on 10/04/2016 at 12:48
Follow James on Twitter @JamesSnook7