Monday, March 05, 2007

Out In The Open

Try to imagine, if you will, watching a live football match on the television. It is, for the sake of argument, Chelsea vs Arsenal, and fifteen minutes or so into proceedings, it becomes apparent to you that the Chelsea supporters are singing, "you're just a team full of niggers". Your jaw drops open, scarcely able to believe that something so crass would be sung in this day and age, but it's right there in front of you.

We like to think, at the dawn of a new century, that we've got this political correctness thing licked and, thankfully, the sort of scene that I've described above is fairly (though not, regrettably, completely) unthinkable. Racist abuse of players was, of course, not remotely uncommon for as long as there were black players on the pitch up until into the 1990s. There's a convincing argument for saying that there is still endemic racism within football (the editorial of this month's "When Saturday Comes" considers the fact that there has still never been a black, English manager in the Premiership), but the issue of racism on the terraces has been effectively dealt with by such campaigns as "Kick Racism Out Of Football".

As I noted on here before, I am somewhat shamed by the fact that I haven't been to a single Brighton & Hove Albion match since I've lived on the south coast, but I did go to the FA Vase match between Whitehawk and Truro City on Saturday. The visiting supporters spent much of the first half singing "you're just a town full of bummers" and "does your boyfriend know you're here?". I certainly don't want to get into a situation in which I'm labelling Truro supporters as the most homophobic in the country, because I am reliably informed that there is a high degree of homophobic chanting at every single Brighton & Hove Albion match. Brighton has cultivated a reputation as a "gay town" for some considerable time, and it wears it's liberalism as a badge of honour. The football club itself takes a strong line against the chanting, and has a telephone number to call to report it, but there can be no question that it is tolerated in a way that simply wouldn't be if it were racist chanting instead.

It's difficult to say whether the issue would be more or less exaggerated if there were any openly gay footballers. To this day, the only openly gay footballer to come out whilst playing was Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990, towards the end of his playing career. It was hardly a shining example of liberalism and tolerance. Fashanu, who will always hold a place in my affection for this magnificent goal against Liverpool in 1980 (which won the "Goal Of The Season" award for that season), committed suicide in May 1998, after almost a decade of insinuation and gossip. Perhaps Fashanu shouldn't have come out in "The Sun", who subsequently ran a series of sensationalist (and, according to Fashanu himself, largely untrue) stories about his private life, but it doesn't need to be said that it isn't a matter of how much abuse an openly gay person should or shouldn't have to endure. We should really be above that sort of thing.

In modern culture, football is almost unique in having such an artificially heterosexual culture. Interviewed by the BBC a couple of years ago, the former Crystal Palace and Wycombe Wanderers manager Alan Smith said, "Football is a profession that doesn't allow anyone to be different. I've had players over the years who were single and read books and so others said they must be gay. I suspect it may have bothered them but they got on with it because that's what they wanted to do. I think being openly gay would be something very difficult to live with in football.". It's saying something that Smith comes across as one of the more liberal voices in the professional game. Modern football culture is still the sort of culture in which baseless gossip can follow Graeme Le Saux for the whole of his career - it was enough for many players that he collected antiques and read "The Guardian". I hope Robbie Fowler is proud of himself.

There are causes for cautious optimism on this front - the Brighton & Hove Albion hotline being one small step in the right direction. There is now a Gay National Football League, which is now in its third season. Anecdotally, there is evidence that the number of gay football supporters is growing year on year. When interviewed by The Guardian on the subject, Dave Nash (of the GFSN League club Brighton Bandits) gave the distinct impression that it's all water off a duck's back to him, at least, and it may be a fair assumption to make that, even in Brighton, most gay football supporters have more pressing prejudices to deal with in their lives than the chanting of a few visiting supporters. It kind of strikes me, though, that it shouldn't be a requirement for gay men (and, indeed, women) to have thick skins in order to enjoy the experience of being at a football match - and this is something that we should perhaps be looking to tackle within the culture of being a football supporter.


Applematt said...

"you're just a town full of bummers"

Yea but what happened to them at the end of the game ? They were bashed properly for what was an insult.

Brighton has some Homo's - but its also a town full of chap's - Think anyone coming to whitehawk and calling us queers is lucky to see/hear ever again.

Dave said...

You may not be 'queers' but you're obviously a load of knuckle-dragging, inbred, retarded twats, judging from the above comment.

Thomas said...

Remarkably enough, I would have thought sexual experiences with the same sex do not necessarily render one inbred nor mentally challenged any more than sexual experiences with the opposite sex do, regardless of a marked propensity for committing the odd solecism as far as apostrophe usage goes.

200percent said...

I think I'll steer clear of politics in the future, and try to focus on animals running onto the pitch and "Roy Of The Rovers" in the future.

pootle said...

you should focus on something less controversial,
like religion

shhexycorin said...

The important issue I would like to discuss is your lack of link to my website.

You link to notorious Geordie Harper, but not to me. You must be a lesbian.

Thomas said...

Great post, 200percent (this is a different thomas than the one who already commented, by the way). As a Brighton fan, I've certainly heard it all ad nauseum.

I actually wanted to ask you something about your post via email, but I can't see your address listed anywhere - if you could get in touch with me at tjd1979 at gmail.com, it'd be much appreciated. Cheers.

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