Banter or Bile? : The Ugly Face of Homophobia in Football

In recent weeks, both Brighton & Hove Albion and now retired-footballer, Robbie Rogers have sparked up debates over the existence of homophobia in football. For decades, campaigners have tried to kick racism and sexism out of the game with noticeable progress but still in 2013, no openly gay footballers in England exist. Begging the question; are the exchanges between the terraces harmless banter or malevolent bigotry?

Targeted… Football fans from the UK’s gay capital have complained to the FA.

Football is a game synonymous with hearty yet edgy banter. Fans are renowned for their sharp passion filled exchanges in the stands with barely anything off limits. Racism, sexism and homophobia are the three main targets for discrimination that organisations such as Kick It Out and The Justin Campaign have sought to eliminate, but to little avail. Since the 1970s and 1980s when football hooliganism and discriminative chanting were at their peaks, only racist chanting has come close to disappearing from the English banter arsenal. Homophobia and sexism has remained rife in the stands. Sian Massey has made huge strides towards gender equality in the sport but an openly gay active player has yet to the same for LGBT equality.

Pioneer… Robbie Rogers is only English football’s 2nd openly gay player

The reason for this imbalance in success, is that racism has been combatted with rigorous campaigning both on and off the pitch. Whereas, the issue of homophobia, which too is discrimination for an innate disposition, is targeted less. Kick It Out should rightly be commended for their work against racism in football but when it comes to tackling homophobia, you wouldn’t be wrong in saying that they’ve tried a little less. With this video campaign (below) coming under fire for almost promoting homophobia by treating the issue in a mocking fashion.

It’s a well-known fact that there are currently no openly gay professional footballers. Justin Fashanu was the first footballer in England to come out as gay.  After coming out in 1990, that’s just 23 years ago, many of his former team-mates spoke out in anger against him, stating that gays had no place in team sports. Legendary manager, Brian Clough also labelled him a ‘bloody poof’, a statement he revealed he later regretted. But due to the horrific torment he received, Fashanu took his own life. Following Fashanu’s suicide in 1998, it would take some 15 years for the next player to out themselves. US international, Robbie Rogers came out in a blog post in February 2013 and although the overall reaction of fans was generally positive, he felt he had to retire from the game as a result. Begging the question, has any progress been made at all?

‘Role model’… Brian Clough publicly vented homophobic views

Brighton’s FA report this month condemns fans of nearly every Championship club,9* for homophobic chants from “We can see you holding hands” to “You’re from a town, full of gays. We hope you all die of AIDs”. A sizeable portion of gay football fans would dismiss a lot of these chants as banter but on occasions, the line is crossed. Initially the seriousness  of the issue, highlighted by this report, had been picked up on, with fans of Leicester City being warned by their club that their season ticket would be confiscated should they unleash any homophobic chanting during an away match at the AMEX stadium in April 2013. However, some have argued that Brighton fans are not the ones that should be concerned, given that the majority of them are not gay. While this may be true, stadiums around the country are filled with gay fans every week and none of them should have to feel like an unwelcome minority. No doubt, there will be a few fans who condemn the changing landscape of terrace chanting, drawing reference to the good old days where everyone was fair game for a cheap dig. But what was so great about vitriolic bigotry in the first place?

Progressive... Less than a third of clubs are currently making a stand against homophobia.

Progressive few… Less than a third of clubs are currently making a stand against homophobia.

Chanting itself is not the only problem. Many football fans will be able to confirm the commonality of homophobic heckling to players and officials. It’s probably true to say that the  fans that make these comments are unaware of the effect they have and the possibility that their sick prejudice will be ingrained in the mind of the small children in attendance, pushing gay rights progress back years. Remarkably only 29 of the 92 top clubs in English football support the “Football vs Homophobia” campaign, a surprising stat given the more ‘family friendly’ nature of sport in the 21st century.

In actuality, the real damage of homophobia in football isn’t done to the fans of Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club, it isn’t done to the fearful closeted players of the English leagues. The damage is done to every conflicted young boy or girl, discovering the love of their football club only to be met with hateful comments simply for being who they are.

Fans views

The only way to gain a true insight in to Homophobia in football is to ask the fans. Here are some of their comments on the issue.

“In a nutshell, homophobia isn’t acceptable, but players “coming out” won’t make a difference. I’ve never seen any incidents at football.” – Kate (@bantamskatee), Bradford City fan

“(on Robbie Rogers) I have the utmost respect for having the balls to come out and say it, but if anything a massive shame that he’s retired as a result. I’ve got a good mate who’s gay also, and he says the one thing that scares him most about coming out is the way gays are perceived in the media, seeing as people who act especially camp such as Gok Wan & Louis Spence couldn’t represent his personality less. In-fact, him admitting to me he’s gay stunned me and I’d say it’s changed my opinion on gays and how I see them, I can fully see his side of it.” – Dan Turner (@DanLCFC93), Leicester City fan

“Well, I have never actually heard any homophobic abuse at Rovers or an away game and it is something I would never want to hear at a game… it is something to be stamped out along with racism…I feel like it shouldn’t be a bad thing to be gay and a football fan/player but I feel people are scared of the backlash from it.” – Lucy Ford (@LucyRovers), Bristol Rovers fan

“In modern day football, it’s unacceptable to be homophobic. The society away from football doesn’t accept homophobia, being a football fan doesn’t make you immune to the rules. There’s having a joke and then there’s intent to insult which I believe should lead to a ban in football.” – Jess Beasley, (@nffcjessx), Nottingham Forest fan

“When Rogers came out and retired it made big news here (United States). Many MLS teams said they’d welcome him. I think that he should’ve kept playing. But on the other hand I can understand why he retired. No gay professional athletes here either. Also, there haven’t been ANY homophobic abuses here stateside in football. (on whether a San Francisco franchise would receive homophobic abuse) That’s never been an issue here with other sports that have a team in San Fran, so I’d think it wouldn’t be an issue in football” – Kyle Debelak, Manchester City fan 


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