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The beautiful game is changing

Gscene Editorial Team December 10, 2019

The beautiful game is changing

Alexander Smith talks to Gscene about how he first started watching ‘the Albion’ and praises the club’s work with the LGBT+ community.

“I was terrible at football as a child. I grew up in the football obsessed UK of the 1980s, where almost every schoolboy played football at break and lunchtimes. That set me apart, marking me an outsider, and I was targeted with homophobic names by the football playing kids. I denied their taunts, but felt shame, knowing that they were right. I was gay.

As I grew older I accepted and owned my sexuality. I also linked football with a toxic, homophobic group mentality. This was compounded by media reports of homophobic incidents at matches around the country. 

Twice in my adult life I have lived close enough to a football stadium to hear the euphoric roar of the crowd and I would occasionally watch games on TV, but I never attended one. I felt alienated from that world.

However, recently Brighton & Hove Albion Football Club invited a mixed LGBT+ group, which included me, to come to a match. My first instinct was to decline. Even as a forty-something, the idea of being amongst football fans filled me with fear. 

Nonetheless, I looked into Brighton & Hove Albion and saw that they have been working with the LGBTQ+ community. They are signed up to the Rainbow Laces initiative created by Stonewall to promote equality in sport. 

Locally the club marches as part of Brighton’s diverse community Pride celebrations. They also produce and distribute Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation literature to their fans, a progressive move for a Premier League club. 

This convinced me to discard my prejudices and accept the invitation. The group met for a drink at a pub near Brighton station, one frequented by football fans. We nervously sipped pints, primed for danger, but nobody gave us a second look. 

My nerves were still jangling as we were herded onto a train, crammed in amongst hordes of Seagulls fans. The experience was cramped, but smooth and uneventful. At the stadium, I noticed how mixed the crowd was. We were sat amongst families and groups of women as well as the expected male fans. 

The game itself was a blast. I found myself glued to the action on the pitch and whooped and cheered at what I believe were the right moments. Once the game started, I was too busy enjoying myself to think too much about where I was. 

I left questioning my own beliefs. While understandable at the time, my childhood prejudice against football – and its fans – had hardened to inflexibility. I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to look beyond my own mindset and see first hand how Brighton & Hove Albion appeared to be breaking down the barriers between the sport and the LGBT+ community.

The club is passionate about engaging LGBT+ fans and making them feel welcome. They have also encouraged their fans to value diversity and equality. If this passes to their children, it will in turn spread to their peers. That is how real change happens – in sport and in society.

The club has a long standing history of club supporters challenging racist and homophobic behaviors on the terraces and in the game itself. The supporters group North Stand Kollective have been instrumental in driving change from a grass roots level for years and have an international reputaton for inclusive practice and recently an Albion supporters LGBT group – Proud Seagulls – has started up.

On Sunday the club will host activities set to mark Brighton and Hove Albion’s Rainbow Laces match against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Amex stadium in Falmer. 

The match is part of a wider Premier League initiative that will see all Albion players wearing Rainbow Laces for the fixture.