29 September 2013
Village Manchester joined numerous clubs and footballers across the UK to take part in The 'Right Behind Gay Footballers' campaign on the weekend of 21-22 September.
by Rob McPherson & Steve Joyce
The campaign - set up by gay rights charity Stonewall and betting shop chain Paddy Power and supported by the Gay Footballers Supporters Network (GFSN) - was initiated to show support for gay footballers and to fight discrimination in the sport. The campaign saw rainbow laces sent to all 134 professional clubs in England and Scotland as well as to all of the gay football clubs who are members of the GFSN.
There are around 5,000 professional male players in the UK but currently no 'out' players. Based on the national average there should be 200-300 gay players and the campaign is intended to show the public support for them should they decided to come out. The campaign was not designed to out any player, nor to persuade a player to come out, but to improve the atmosphere should they wish to.
Village Manchester, one of the leading gay clubs in the country, wore their laces in their local league game against Saints in the Manchester Accountants League - and the laces brought the team good luck as they ran out 5-1 winners. They even had their picture taken with ex-footballer Robbie Savage who was supporting a BBC Media City team on the next pitch. Robbie retweeted us, as did Swedish footballer Anton Hysen, one of only two out gay footballers in the world.
VMFC was featured prominently in the Manchester Evening News and various websites. It was a campaign that many of our players fully endorsed.
Rob McPherson, Communications Officer at Village Manchester, welcomed the initiative: "As a gay football team, that has a number of straight players, we are well aware of the issues of gay participation and homophobia in football. The campaign has brought the issue of gay footballers - or in this case the lack of professional ones - into the spotlight and this can only be a good thing."
The campaign, which was launched by QPR's Joey Barton, has seen support from many professional players, managers, pundits, politicians and celebrities who have posted pictures and tweets showing their support.
The list of those who supported the campaign includes players and managers from Everton, Newcastle United, Arsenal, Norwich City, West Ham United, Burnley, Brighton, Reading, Bristol Rovers, Port Vale and Leyton Orient to name but a few.
Pundits and celebrities including Gary Lineker, David Ginola, Jake Humphries, Clare Balding, Stephen Fry also threw their weight behind the campaign.
'Straight' teams across the country also chose to show their support and lace up.
Not everyone endorsed the campaign however. The group Football Versus Homophobia was critical of the campaign - in the middle of the campaign. They believed that using the gay innuendo 'right behind' in a campaign that amongst other things wanted players, managers and supporters to stop using gay innuendo, was amateurish and damaging.
They may be right, and many at VMFC believe it would have been easy to have a campaign using an inoffensive term, but launching their scathing attack during the campaign made them the news and detracted from the campaign itself.
Others thought that launching the campaign on the Monday before the weekend was too late and na�ve, although having the campaign launched any earlier may have confused some as to which was 'lace up' weekend. Launching on the Monday give the campaign an intensity.
One of the strongest voices against the campaign was our own local club Manchester United, who decided not to support it on the grounds that they already support the Kick It Out campaign, that aims to remove both racism and homophobia from football. One of our committee members, a lifelong United fan, was embarrassed and disappointed by their refusal to participate given the lacklustre approach the Kick It Out campaign has had with regards to homophobia compared to racism.
The campaign was also a victim of its own success. Requests for the rainbow laces far exceeded expectations which meant there weren't enough to send out to all the clubs. VMFC was sent just 13 pairs for 40 players!
Political/ethical campaigns will always have their detractors. It remains to be seen whether #RBGF will change minds and give gay professional footballers an atmosphere where they feel comfortable to come out. It remains to be seen if in return they receive support and not derision from their fellow players, managers and fans.
The simple fact is the #RBGF gained huge amounts of publicity with many high profile players and celebrities endorsing it. Perhaps if the campaign was to return next year with a slogan nobody can be offended by and with more effort taken to involve the clubs, the response will be more positive.