1997's Big Issue
8 November 2016
Back in August 1997, in Village Manchester's second year, the Big Issue in the North ran an extensive article about the club, homophobia and the fact that there were no out gay players in professional football in the UK. 19 years on, as we mark the club's 20th anniversary, we look back at the article. How much has changed?
Society is radically different. Section 28 has gone and we have equal marriage. Gay characters regularly appear on television and, whislt there is still undoubtedly homophobia in society, it is much less prevalant than in the 1990's.
In football, strides have been taken to try to eradicate homophobia in football. Professional clubs and players have taken part in the #rainbowlaces campaign and in Football v Homophobia each February. Here in Manchester, our own MCFC has its own LGBT supporter group, Canal Street Blues, and supported them and VMFC at Manchester Pride.
But when, out of 5,000 professional players, not one gay player feels comfortable in coming out, there is obviously some way to go. In that respect, nothing has changed.
Gay and bi players still come to VMFC wishing to play for an inclusive, welcoming club where they know there will be no bigotry or hassle. With VMFC still, very occasionally receiving homophobic abuse on the pitch, the very reason for forming the club 20 years ago still exists (although we are perhaps as much about the social side now).
It's an interesting read and we wonder whether the 'queering' and 'homo' headlines would even be used today...
Back row L to R: S Woods, J Ure, G Goggins, A 'The Goalkeeper', A Baker, P King, H Razak
Frond row L to R: D Fallows, D Houghton, E Williams, R Harrison, N Symons
Photo by Peter Webb
QUEERING THE PITCH
‘THE WORLD OF SPORT OF SPORT IS THE LAST BASTION OF HOMOPHOBIA.’ NOT FOR LONG, SAYS SIMON BIRCH
“Get stuck in you poofs!” While you could be forgiven for assuming this was just the raucous rant of some beery homophobic football supporter, when it’s shouted at players from Manchester’s Village Football Club, it’s the voice of touch-line encouragement – and a statement of fact.
For nearly every member of the team is gay. Manchester may be home to the world’s most famous football club – but the city now boasts the fastest growing gay football team in the country and one which takes its name from its birthplace right in the heart of the city’s Gay Village.
Village FC kicked off 18 months ago when an all-gay five-a-side tournament in Manchester organised by the Gay Supporters’ Football Network – yes, one exists – highlighted the need for a permanent team.
“A few of us really wanted to go places with the team,” says 23-year-old founding member Anthony Baker, “because we were getting bored just having a kick around every weekend.”
After spreading the word around the gay community, a team was soon in training and competing against other recently formed gay teams from Leicester, Birmingham and the all conquering Stonewall FC from London which formed in 1991.
Baker has never been in any doubt as to the need for an all-gay team. “Players don’t want to feel pressured into hiding anything or pretending they’re something that they’re not.
“As a result they feel a lot happier playing for a gay side rather than a straight team and having to admit they’re gay and then dealing with the consequences.” The team also fulfils an important social function, says Baker. “It’s essential that we’re able to offer an alternative to the current gay scene,” he explains. “Down in the Gay Village, there’s such a degree of conformity – you have to look and act in a certain way. I don’t think a lot of us in the team fit into all that, yet we feel pressured into going down there because there’s nothing else.”
Village FC is one of many gay and lesbian sports clubs mushrooming all over the country. With more than 40,000 members, the British Gay and Lesbian Sports Federation is one of the biggest sections of the gay and lesbian community.
But despite the fact that the favoured brands for many gay men and women are Reebok and Adidas (who provided Village FC’s kit) rather than Calvin Klein and Silk Cut, when it comes to queering the pitch, the game is far from in the bag.
From an early age, Graeme Goggins, the 37-year-old manager of Village FC knew homosexuality and football didn’t mix. “As a teenager I played football for Lancashire County Schoolboys and went for trials at Torquay and Rochdale. But at the time I was seeing a bloke who told me that if I made it through the trials and they ever found out that I was a poof, then I’d be slated on the terraces. I then quickly realised that I couldn’t do football and be gay – so the football lost out.”
Goggins never did find out if he could have made it as a professional player. “If there hadn’t been any hassle about my sexuality then I would have tried that bit harder. As it was,” says Goggins, “I just went through the motions like anything unless you gave it 100 per cent you’re never going to make it.”
Goggins abandoned any hopes of top-class football, and settled for a life of semi-professional playing in a local league for 12 years. Yet for all this time Goggins kept his sexuality a secret and with good reason.
“I was playing with a load of meatheads and if they knew that I was a poof then not only would they have thought me to be less of a player – they would have kicked the hell out of me” he says of some old team mates and opponents.
Following his outing during the summer, Goggins has yet to get a phone call to sort out this season’s fixtures. Not that he’s devastated. “If it happened five years ago then yes it would have mattered, but the timing’s right now and whatever I’ve learned from my days playing for straight teams I want to bring to gay football.”
Goggins is now focussing his energies on bringing glory and success up north to Village FC – starting with his side’s first overseas tournaments next month in Washington.
Bill Clinton had better watch his windows because in a world-first publicity coup, the seventh Gay World Cup is set to be played on the sweeping lawns leading up to the White House, with 20 teams slogging it out to become World Champions, including Village FC.
And after the glitz of playing Stateside, the team is aiming to bring home some silverware when they play in next summer’s Gay Games in Amsterdam and in the sixth Gay Eurogames in 1999 to be held, fittingly, in Manchester.
Yet away from the glamour and excitement, Goggins is aware of the dangers of competing in gay-only matches and of the accusations that the team will become an inmate of yet another self-built gay-ghetto. “It’s important that we join a straight league – we have to compete at their level and to their standard.”
Goggins plans to take the club into a straight league next year – but he’s being careful which one he chooses. “I’ll probably go to the league based in Heaton Park in the north of the city which has a large number of Jewish teams.” He hopes it will be more tolerant and open-minded, rare qualities in the world of professional sport.
Despite more than 25 years of ground-breaking gay liberation in other areas, the changing room door remains firmly closed and as a result, the world of sport is probably one of the last bastions of institutionalised homophobia.
This is starkly evidenced by the fact that in the UK today there is not one openly gay high-profile sportsman or woman. Sure, ultimately unhelpful Chinese whispers abound about who is and isn’t gay, but as Anthony Baker says: “It’s not a big secret within footballing circles who they are.”
Nowadays Manchester United watches its stock market listing with as much interest as its position in the Premiership title race.
But it was “not prepared to comment” when asked if it would support any player wanting to come out.
Likewise the Football Association said it has no policy on supporting gay players. Since no player has ever come forward, then the subject didn’t exist – an attitude that came as no surprise to Baker. “The FA won’t address the issue until it’s put right in their faces by a high profile respected player coming out, one that they can’t ignore and refuse to back.”
In the meantime it’s up to the likes of Village FC to get stuck in and show that homosexuality and football can go together. And judging by the buzz in Manchester generated by Village FC one suspsects they could go all the way.
“Why not?” demand Baker. “Why should anything stand in our way?”
Football’s Coming Homo
“I wish Village FC all the luck in the world. I think it’s outrageous that gay people cannot come out in football when they can in other areas. The sporting world needs to drag itself into the 90s.”
Matthew Marsden, who plays Chris the Coronation Street mechanic and footballer.
“Village FC are doing a brilliant job in working to stamp out discrimination within sport. The success of the team shows that your sexuality need not be an issue in sport.”
Manchester City Councillor Kevin Roswell.
“I abhor discrimination of any kind. If anyone is good enough to play the game then their sexuality shouldn’t make any difference at all.”
Pat Nevin, Kilmarnock Football Club and former Chair of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
“The issue of discrimination within sport has long been neglected by lesbian and gay organisations. Now that there are more and more lesbians and gay men involved in sport it proves to the wider sporting world that we’re a force to be reckoned with. Lesbian and gay football teams have done just as well as their straight counterparts, if not better.”
Paul Wallington, Gay Football Supporters’ Network.
“The fact that news of teams like Village FC has been picked up by so much of the media is testament to the fact there is great interest in gays and lesbians in sport at the moment. I’m sure that in time this will trickle down into the wider consciousness of mainstream sport.”
Paul Clement, Editor of the Pink Paper.