On their twitter profile, Whitehawk Football Club describe themselves as “having more fun than you since 1945”. The club was originally founded just at the end of the Second World War as Whitehawk & Manor Farm Old Boys. The original name rerefers to the Brighton Boys’ club Whitehawk, and the adjoining Manor Farm estate and was set up for those that wished to play football but were too old to play in a youth league. 75 years later the club is a shining example not only to other football clubs, but to any community or commercial organisation of how to get the ‘ally’ thing just right. Head of commercial at the club, Kevin Miller, talks with such dedication, passion and enthusiasm of their social mission and purpose that even though this Gscene writer has little interest in football at the start of the conversation, he leaves it wanting to surrender his life savings to the club and play for the team, in goal.
“The key is our fan base is eclectic” he says “so why would our approach not reflect that? We have everyone supporting the club from local residents who have lived in the area for decades, students, University Professors, anarchists, people from the LGBTQ community so their support breeds a culture of inclusiveness”. On match days, Whitehawk average a supporters’ crowd of some 300 whereas the Premier League Club average 30,000 and Kevin sees it as his job to grow that support by establishing real and lasting community links:
“25 years ago, Whitehawk was one of the most deprived estates in Europe but it has turned a corner with its amazing local community. Yes there are problems but it is inspiring to see these low-income families doing their best and most importantly doing it together…. And for the record, Whitehawk is one of the cleanest areas in the city that I have seen.”
Whitehawk United also play in an away kit that is emblazoned with the rainbow colours and is one of only a handful of clubs ever to do so. I ask Kevin how the association with the local LGBTQ community came about: “There was certainly a disconnect between the club and the LGBTQ community and when we reached out to people their feedback was that because of the long associations between homophobia and sport there was an assumed lack of welcome. But there is a freedom in non-league football of which we are a part, that no longer exists in the Premier league. We can ask people to be a real part of who we are and what we do, get involved have fun and in reflecting the community of Brighton and Hove, of course we reflect the LGBTQ nature of our unique city.
Kevin talks with passion not only for the club but for the city at large. He is clearly genuinely thrilled at the huge majorities our three MPs continue to secure in General Elections which bucks the Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Hampshire trend towards the conservative. “Let’s build a wall!” he jests “and lets make Surrey pay for the wall!”
In summer 2019, Whitehawk FC stepped into the Pride arena in arranging a charity fundraising match for the much-loved Rainbow Fund. “We were approached by local trans activist, writer and broadcaster Sophie Cook to create an event that included a high-profile mixed gender football match. The event was called Football United and the match was between an ex-Premier League all-star line up and Rainbow Rovers, player managed by Sophie. The Rovers won 4-2.
“The whole ethos behind the event was a celebration of togetherness. We wanted to embrace diversity, inclusion and challenge outdated perceptions of who football is for and we’re running the event again the weekend before Pride this year. But you know – there’s an abundance of rainbow flags and audible LGBTQ support at all our matches. We recently played in Guernsey in the away kit with the rainbow on it and 25% of our supporters came out there with us. It’s an opportunity to build a name for us all over the UK as an inclusive club” The return leg of the Guernsey match takes place in Whitehawk on March 28 and it is being dubbed Community Day.
Kevin goes on to speak positively about the allied work some of the big league clubs are undertaking: “Football clubs are doing a lot of good work. Most football clubs have LGBT teams. Arsenal, West-Ham, Charlton, Aston Villa. But what’s different between them and us, besides the money, is that their efforts, as well-intentioned and supportive as they are, just don’t seem to dig into the LGBTQ community itself”. I ask Kevin why he thinks that might be.
“We’re local and we work with local people, people like Sophie [Cook]. They [Premier and Championship clubs) can only do so much without gay players. It is different in the women’s game and it always has been. There are openly gay female players, but male football is an old-school, working class male sport and we still carry those attitudes. Football is the only sport left that has the difficulty in accepting this. There must be gay players – we seem to be accepting it in rugby, why not football?”
“We are all targeted by our age, race etc and we are all compartmentalised. Football is a great conduit to deal with these differences and start the inclusion conversation. We don’t have many things in life where we all share the same experience. Sport is unusual like that and football in particular. All of these things chip away at the old and reinvent to a new, bigger audience in the future”.
Our conversation comes to a close with Kevin offering an open invitation to us all to engage with Whitehawk FC and their work. “Come and help build these foundations – create a community. Come to the club and make new friends, have new conversations. This is where non-league football scores over premier league where you’re frisked by security, restrictive health and safety in the stadiums and of course the expense. We do what the Albion do – we play 90-minute football. But as a lower league or non-league club we can challenge the norm.
“This is what makes the club so special and we want to open the doors to everyone. Football should not be a barrier”.
The Whitehawk Community Day is on March 28. Football United 2 will take place the weekend before Pride.
Details will be shared on www.whitehawkfc.com