Media & students FAQ

We get approached by the media and a lot of students for information about the club and homophobia in football. This section has lots of actual questions we’ve been asked, and our responses. As they were for a number of different interviews, the questions don’t naturally flow from one to the other, and there may be repeated themes. 

Please feel free to use any of the answers in your media reports or studies, crediting VMFC. If you wish to ask us further questions, please get in touch using the contact form

 

New players can find the info you need here.
 

About VMFC

VMFC has been running for over 20 years now, what is the core ethos of the club and has that changed at all over that time?


Village Manchester Football Club was formed in February 1996 to give gay and bi guys the chance to play and support the sport they love in a safe, welcoming environment. Since then, we’ve grown massively, and now have four teams giving players of all abilities the chance to play football. These days, we’re delighted to welcome many straight allies whilst remaining Manchester’s gay-friendly football club. 
 

We call ourselves ‘inclusive’ – we welcome everyone from within the LGBTQ+ community and those who want to support. We have players of all ages and races, and from all over the world. 
 

Our ethos is simple – everyone is welcome, discrimination is not.

When and why was your LGBT team established?
 
Village Manchester was set up in 1996 by a group of friends who created a team to enable like-minded individuals to play a sport they were passionate about in a competitive local league. Motivation was, in part, to prove a point against a common view that a gay team could not compete in a predominantly straight league but more importantly – win, lose or draw – the club was a focal point for all involved to keep fit and socialise together.
 

How has your club progressed? and what are the proudest achievements of the club on and off the field? 


For most of our first 20 or so years the club had two teams that played regularly in Sunday leagues. In the last three or four years this has grown to four, with two playing on Saturdays. Although the club is predominantly LGBT+ we do have an increasing number of straight players. We pride ourselves on being inclusive and have players of different sexual preferences and race. We are proud to have won the local straight league we play in and we have achieved lots of success in gay football - having won the gay national cup and a number of international gay football competitions. Off the field, we have often appeared in the media to add our voice in the fight against homophobia in sport. 

Have you received a positive response since your team was established? From the media? from the public?
 
The response has been very positive. We have had a few instances of homophobia during our time playing in straight leagues but these are very few and far between.  The media has been increasingly positive and this is good as we need their help to promote the message that abuse (of any kind) is just plain wrong.
 

Do you have any straight players in your team?

We do have a decent number of straight players – a lot have joined over the past year or two. We market the club as a gay and inclusive club and straight players join us for various reasons – some because their gay mate wanted to join and wanted someone to go with him, or they found the atmosphere at our training or games more welcoming than other clubs, or just the fact that we train close to where they live. By having a mix of gay and straight players, the club is a great example of showing that someone’s sexuality should not be an issue. Everyone who plays for the club loves football and wants to play the sport – whether straight or gay, a City or United fan, a left back or a striker – we just want to play football. 
 

How do you advertise your club to potential players?
 

We currently advertise the club mainly over social media as that is where most people look nowadays. Football is a team sport and when the team is doing well and having success it is such a great feeling to know that you are part of that team and experiencing the same joy as your mates. Over the previous 19 years the club has had quite a bit of success and we are proud that we can provide something that is fun and inclusive but also something that is competitive and rewarding. 
 

How was it like to host the first European Championship in IGLFA history in 2011?

It was great to hold the inaugural European Championship in Manchester. When the IGLFA approached us to host it we readily accepted. The organisation that goes into such tournaments is immense and the IGLFA did a great job getting it all together. And the sun even shone so that was an added bonus as that is never guaranteed in a British summer!

What was it like hosting the GFSN summer tournament in 2017? 

This time we organised the tournament ourselves with no external help, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was hosted in the July, slightly later than usual, was promoted like mad and had the added bonus of the Gay Village – and ended up with the biggest GFSN tournament ever. Read the report on the event here.
 

What does playing for the club give you for your private life? Or is it even the other way: do you get discriminated against because of playing for a gay and inclusive club?

Joining the club is one of the best decisions our players ever make. They make really good mates in the club; we used to think that was having the ‘gay thing’ in common giving shared similar circumstances – ‘when did you realise you were gay’, ‘how did you come out’, etc – but the increasing number of straight players who form great friendships here is proof of something else… it’s simply a great club to be part of. There is occasional homophobia but actually most players don’t experience it. And there can’t be many teams that get to travel to beautiful cities like Barcelona, Dublin, Budapest, Stockholm, Miami, Hamburg, Rome or Paris for the opportunity to be European or World Champions! 

As the aim of the club is total equality, is the main aim also to not to have to exist in the future?

There will always be a place for gay teams – the fight against homophobia in sport is only really starting and there is a long way to go. If we, Village Manchester amongst all the other gay teams, can help fight homophobia in any little way then there will always be a case for having gay teams.

If homophobia ended today and there was no need for inclusive teams, we’d still carry on. We have over 25 years of playing, campaigning and socialising. We enjoy playing football together and having a pint or two. Why would we end that? 

How many gay players, how many straight players do you have in your club/team?

We don’t know, as we don’t ask! With the increasing number of straight players joining, we’d guess at around two thirds LGBT+, one third straight. There are always some who have yet to decide. Our straight players have no problem fitting in as we have an open and friendly approach for anyone who wants to play and believe it’s what the club stands for. 

What does it mean to the players to be able to play in a team without any prejudices?

It means that they can play the way they want to play and not be affected by things they may hear in a changing room or from the sidelines. At the end of the day, we play football to have fun so you have to make sure that that fun element is always there; why would you take part in something you do not enjoy? 

How did the idea for the football team come about?

Village Manchester FC was formed in 1996 by a small, yet determined group of friends who created a team to enable like-minded individuals to play a sport they were passionate about in a competitive local league. Motivation was, in part, to prove a point against a common view that a gay team could not compete in a predominantly straight league but more importantly – win, lose or draw – the club was a focal point for all involved to keep fit and socialise together.

 

Read an early article about the club that appeared in The Big Issue in the North here.
 

Did the club set out any initial targets, i.e. league finishes or was it initially about enjoying the football?

There were not initially any real targets - it was just set up to get players together to play football. The bigger we have got, the better we have got and now there is a real competitive edge to the club – yet we still retain an atmosphere that is welcoming and accommodating. And with four teams, all abilities are welcome. 

What did the first league and cup successes feel like?

In 2006/2007 we won the Manchester Accountants League – the local straight Sunday league we were in at the time – and this was a great achievement for the club. It allowed us to show our competitive edge and our talents, and it showed that a gay team (or a mainly gay team) can compete and be successful against whatever opposition it is put up against. 

Having seen that the club has represented Manchester on an international level, how did the club rise to be so big?

It was a natural thing for the club to enter international competitions. These competitions are gay tournaments and we are eager to test ourselves against the best teams from these shores but also from farther afield. We have achieved a number of successes in these tournaments and it is great to test ourselves against different teams and different styles of play. It also means fun trips away!

What are the aims, on and off the field, for the future of Village Manchester FC?

On the field it is to keep improving, get more positive results, get more players involved and win some more competitions. Off the field we want to keep tackling homophobia in football – both in the media and with playing games against different teams. Any discrimination should be eradicated from sport and at Village Manchester we will do out bit to eradicate from our sport.

Are there any actions set in place by the club to prevent homophobia abuse? 

We have engaged with the leagues we play in with regard to campaigns like Football vs Homophobia and Rainbow Laces, and so far the leagues and most clubs have been very supportive. We also went to the press about our experiences of homophobia while playing. Beyond that there’s not much the club itself can actually do. All our players are aware that it they hear any abuse during a game they should inform the referee, the captain, and the manager as soon as possible. 

Is Village Manchester FC becoming more acceptable in amateur football, or are there still issues that the club is facing? 

VMFC was never not acceptable in football. Homophobia still exists, and we challenge it when we hear it, but on a day-to-day basis we have turned up and done the job. On the pitch we’re a football team just like any other football team. 

What league does the Village Manchester Football Club play in? Is it mixed? Does a mixed league make it more difficult for you? Have you ever been subject to homophobic abuse in the league?

It’s been a very exciting couple of years for the club. We’ve been growing quickly, and after two decades of two teams, now have four. The Firsts and Seconds play in the Lancashire & Cheshire League which takes place on a Saturday afternoon. The Thirds and Fourths play in the Manchester Amateur Sunday Football League and games for this are on Sunday mornings. These are both ‘straight’ leagues. We take part in the GFSN (Gay Football Supporters’ Network) national cup, and also their annual league if our fixtures allow.

 

We also take part in various inclusive tournaments throughout the year. We originally wanted to play in a straight league to show everybody that it doesn’t matter if you are gay or not – you can still be really good at sport. We have played in straight leagues for years and have performed very well and been competitive, so our opposition know they are in for a game when they face us.

 

We have been subject to homophobia on the field and have taken a strict line with this in relation to reporting it to the FA. 

Have you received any support from other clubs around Manchester?

Other teams have always been interested in us and we do get quite a lot of questions about the club. Lately we had the Rainbow Laces campaign and our opposition on the day (usually a straight team) have always been happy to put rainbow laces on their boots to show support and happy to have their picture taken with them in. 

More and more straight men are joining VMFC, why do you believe this is?

Straight players used to come along to support their gay mates; now, we get lots of straight players coming on their own. We’ve asked a few why, and the answer is always that they want to play for a well-run club where all are welcome and the most important thing is the football. Often, they are simply tired of the laddishness associated with many clubs. 

VMFC is a football club and will therefore have goals to strive towards. What is the aim for VMFC moving forward? Are you pushing for a promotion/cup win?


All the teams are always working towards league promotion; it’s the first time two of our teams have been in their respective leagues, so we’ll have to see how they do this year. With the current Covid restrictions, everyone is concentrating just being able to play. 

VMFC is a ‘not for profit’ club which relies on donations, how have you been affected by Covid-19 both on and off the pitch?

VMFC is very lucky to have amazing sponsors who provide much of our income. Our players also contribute through membership fees. We’re extremely grateful to receive donations and grants each year, but actually that’s a small part of our income. Covid put everything on hold for a few months, but we’ve seen an influx of new players and the season commenced. With new precautions in place, everything is back to (new) normal. 

How do you encourage your players to have confidence in their sexuality?

At our club a lot of our players are quite confident already. The way in which we help is simple - we provide the players with an atmosphere and environment where they can be themselves and express themselves and this in itself breeds confidence. We never ask about sexuality or gender identity, preferring our players to open up in their own time. We often have players who join us and are very quiet, and within a few months are out, proud and loud!
 

What is the most gratifying part of being a manager at Village Manchester FC?

“Seeing new players come in and get involved with the club – both on and off the pitch. I was the new guy seven years ago and joining the club has been a great thing for me – I have made loads of new mates, had lots of good experiences and have learnt a lot. Seeing new guys coming in at the start of that journey and knowing the experiences they could have is quite gratifying.”

Homophobia in football

When you think about it, the idea of an all-inclusive club shouldn’t be needed. Why is it that clubs like VMFC are as important as ever?

There currently isn’t a single out gay player in the Premier League. Statistically, that’s ridiculous. There are many reasons, from the abuse that players believe they will receive from the terraces, to the advice given by their managers, to stay in the closet. It’s simply not healthy. While society has changed very much for the better, there is still discrimination in professional football. 


Similarly, there are gay and bi players who just don’t feel comfortable playing for some straight teams. There will be many straight teams who would embrace a gay player (or who simply wouldn’t care), we still hear of players who are abused, or simply uncomfortable with the level of homophobic ‘banter’. 


After more than two decades, VMFC still provides a place for everyone to play football in a welcoming environment where the only thing of importance is football. 


There are also practical considerations where the increasingly important issue of trans players is concerned – trans players may not be welcome or able to play in straight teams, but are welcome at VMFC.

Obviously homophobia is still a big problem in football, and many people don’t have answers to the problems. Is there a solution, and as a club how do you aim to achieve this solution?

The best thing to do is to keep promoting the message that any kind of abuse is wrong. The more people hear positive stories, the more they will warm to the idea of, and get used to the thought of, gay footballers. It helps that there are positive role models out there in other sports such as American football, diving, rugby, etc and it will only be time before football will join them with having an out, current competitor. As a club, we continue to challenge stereotypes by competing against, and beating, straight opposition and taking part in campaigns such as the Rainbow Laces campaign. 

When playing for the club, do you still experience homophobia?

Over the years there hasn’t been that much homophobia, but in the last two or three years it’s grown. In 2020 we experienced a serious case of homophobia from an entire opposition team, which hit the headlines and led to a massive campaign from the club. Once we get on the pitch and show that we can be competitive, that often garners a little bit of respect from the opposition. 

How can football help to improve society’s behaviour towards homosexuality and to decrease homophobia?

Football is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, sport in the world. With so many people having an interest in it, it means that the sport has an important part and great start in affecting society’s behaviour. With racism you can see how the people in charge are taking it seriously and by taking other forms of discrimination as seriously then they will make a difference. Kids and adults idolise football players and the love the clubs they support, and they will support the players’ and clubs’ ideals. By taking a strong stance against homophobia they will make a big difference.  

Is the fight against homophobia in football something particularly supported in the UK?

Very much so. With over 20 inclusive clubs and various campaigning organisations, the UK does a great job in the fight against homophobia. Village Manchester is at the forefront of this by speaking to lots of different people and media outlets about the fight. The FA supports diversity campaigns, which helps to put it in the public eye. More of that later…

What has to happen to make homophobia disappear? How could the first out Premier League player help? Do we need more examples like Thomas Hitzlsperger?

Robbie Rodgers was quite a high-profile story when he left Leeds United and retired then came out days later. Liam Davis – a semi-professional player in England who also came out - also made some headlines for being Britain’s only openly gay footballer. We need more examples like Thomas Hitzlsperger but it needs to be someone who is still playing; only then will we get to see how the fans, media and the sport reacts. Whomever that player is will be a really brave person and will deserve an enormous amount of respect. Once we have one current player come out then that will encourage others and once that happens the homophobes will look even more out of date than they already do.

Why do you think homosexuality in football is such a taboo subject, especially in the men’s game?

Football reflects society, but a decade or two behind. The UK used to be a seriously homophobic country, but has changed beyond recognition. Just a few years ago, who would have even contemplated we’d have equal marriage? Football has always been a macho sport and there are still people who don’t think gay and macho can be used in the same sentence. There are still people who use gay as an insult in society, and some of them are football fans. LGBT people are an easy target. 

Would you say that football’s inclusivity towards LGBT players has improved in recent years?

Absolutely! There are now LGBT supporter clubs for most Premier League teams and over twenty inclusive football clubs like Village Manchester. Professional teams at every level get involved in inclusivity campaigns, as does the FA. At our own club, there’s been a big change in why straight players join us - straight players used to come along to support their gay mates; now, we get lots of straight players coming on their own. We’ve asked a few why, and the answer is always that they want to play for a well-run club where all are welcome and the most important thing is the football. Often, they are simply tired of the laddishness associated with many clubs.  


While there are still grassroots teams that have (and sometimes embrace) homophobic players, there are many more who are happy to take part in inclusivity campaigns. 

Why do you think the women’s game is more accepting of LGBT players?  

Historically in the UK, male homosexuality was always less accepted than female, and this filters down to football. Women’s football has grown massively in recent years, and its recent growth perhaps gives it more open-minded fans. It’s pure speculation, but perhaps there are more female fans, and they are more accepting.  

Why do you think the men’s game is so behind in accepting homosexual players?  

Things have improved and there are many football fans who are accepting. But, football has a tribe mentality and there will always be some who follow their mates’ views, however inappropriate. Thankfully, there are fewer people with those views. Overall, the problem that professional players have is the lagging fear of abuse.  

Where does the stigma around gay footballers come from? History? Grassroots level? 

The homophobia that gay footballers face is based on the historical homophobia at a societal level, but where society has moved on, football lags behind. There may also be more fear of abuse than would actually happen. It is our view that once there are a handful of out gay professional footballers, nobody will care – but it needs those first few to know they have league and FA support.  

Do you feel homophobic abuse in football needs increased publicity, if so why?

It does need increased publicity because once everyone knows how wrong it is and once people start getting charged by the police and banned from stadiums, they will see that it should not be tolerated. Football racism has massively reduced due to increased publicity, alongside sanctions for both players and fans.

Does more need to be done for homophobic abuse to receive the amount of acknowledgement racism’s had?

Yes. The Football Association need to be quicker and louder about fighting homophobia. They keep saying they are working on improving their processes, but it seems that they are going at a snail’s pace. 

Do you think attitudes and public perception has changed over the past 20 years the way society has perhaps become more accepting towards gays and lesbians amid the rise of the likes of Brighton and San Francisco as global ‘hubs’? How has this change projected itself upon football?

Public perception about being gay has changed massively over the last 10-20 years and everyone should congratulate themselves for that. Football however is years behind. Football has only recently started hiring female referees, female commentators, female physios. The fact that a woman is managing a team in France made headlines shows how far behind they are. It will take them a little while to get their head around a gay professional playing, managing or coaching football.

Are we approaching a time where homophobic abuse will become a thing of the past, or at the very least show signs of improvement the way racism, arguably, has? The likes of Tom Daley and Michael Sam showing how other sports are responding well.

Things are improving – football still has a long way to go and shouldn’t rest on its laurels. Having people like Tom Daley, Matthew Mitcham, Michael Sam and Gareth Thomas coming out and telling their story does help but the fact that recently all the football players that have come out over the recent years have done it after they retired shows that football still has a problem.

Is it simply a matter of education?

Education is a big part of it, both in school and on the football pitch, but it is by no means the only thing. People’s upbringing is a big factor too. But yes, if people are educated in what is right and wrong then this will make a big difference.

Some argue the likes of rugby are more accepting due to the perceived ‘higher-class’ supporters they have. Do you agree with this?

Debateable, of course. There is a saying that rugby is a thug’s game played by gentlemen and football is a gentleman’s game played by thugs. The fact that football has a wider, much larger fan base does mean there will be more opinions. 

Thoughts on social media and the help/hindrance it may have. 

It is easier for people to show their support. It’s also easier for people say stuff on social media that they wouldn’t in person – so call keyboard warriors. In fact, most of the homophobia directed to VMFC has been to players on the pitch and not to the club on social media. Having said that, the level of abuse when Premier League clubs post online support for inclusivity is horrendous. 

Is there any hostility or discrimination aimed at VMFC players from members of other teams’ players/staff?

Occasionally players will have homophobic comments aimed towards them on the pitch. We know that sometimes the opposition player concerned simply doesn’t realise that not only are homophobic slurs offensive, but also illegal and should be reported as hate crimes. Often though, they do know. VMFC is committed to protecting our players and working with them to report all incidents to the relevant authorities, which in serious cases can include the police. 


In the last three or four years, the number of incidents has increased, but thankfully are still rare. In fact, we are delighted to often work with opposition teams on campaigns such as Rainbow Laces and Football Versus Homophobia Month. 

Homophobia in professional football

Why do you feel that there is a lack of gay footballers in the Premier League and other professional leagues?

Players have not come out because of the reaction they believe they would get from fans. The majority of fans would not care whether a player was gay or not – all they would care about is if they can put the ball in the back of the net or make that double save. There is a minority, however, who would do anything to try and put a player off and that just go to football to be as vile as possible. Some fans will look for a player’s weakness – whether it be their skin colour, their sexuality, the haircut they have or the paper they read – and try and exploit it. Even the strongest-minded player would struggle if faced with such vitriolic and sustained taunts. Agents and managers have a part to play in it as well as they will worry it will affect the player’s performances and marketing worth.

What kind of response do you feel a Premier League player, maybe even an England player, would get if he admitted to be gay? From the football fans?

From the media it’s likely he would now get an overwhelmingly positive response. Despite the press still being nowhere near perfect, it’s much better than it was. His club, after some reticence, would be fully behind him too he would get lots of support from his fellow players. His problem would be with some fans. The vast majority of his club’s (and country’s) fans would support him as he is their player. It would be opposition fans and players would want to put him off his game that would be the issue. Some might not even believe the abuse they are spewing – they just want to affect the player’s game. Some, however, would have that hate in their minds and it is those people that need to be challenged – whether by banning them from games, by forcing them to go on educational courses, or by whatever means works.

When it boils down to it, fear of abuse may be worse than the actual abuse received. Football is not diverse at the upper levels. Boards are still predominantly made up of middle-aged men. As long as football is run by grey men in grey suits, they will encourage their players to remain in the bulging closet. 

How did people react to Thomas Hitzlspergers coming out?

It was welcomed extremely well and it got a lot of press. He has played for a few clubs in England and he was always a respected player. It helped that no-one suspected he was gay and that he didn’t ‘look’ gay. Hopefully, that affected people’s stereotypes about gay people – there are many different kinds of gay people – including hard tackling, great goal scoring midfielders. 

Do you think the stigma of a male gay footballer is one that can be accepted at professional level?  

One day nobody will care about a professional footballer’s sexuality, in the same way that nobody cares about a tennis player’s sexuality or diver’s sexuality. Society has changed so much for the better in recent years and one day football will catch up.  

What problems do you feel are in the professional game which may stop players sharing their sexuality? 

People have assumed it will be a problem for so long that it’s become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A tiny minority of fans will react badly if a player comes out as gay, and the more publicly they do that, the faster the FA will deal with them. The vast majority of fans aren’t going to be bothered. 

Do you notice any differences between professional and amateur football with regards to homophobia? 

The referee is all powerful, but at a grassroots level they are much less likely to feel capable of exercising that power safely. The presence of TV cameras makes a big difference in what people are prepared to be heard saying. Unfortunately, at grassroots level we’ve experienced several referees who choose not to hear abuse. 

Why do you think there are no openly gay footballers in the top flight of English football?

It’s important to remember that there has already been an openly gay footballer in the top flight. Nobody is scared of being the first anymore: they saw what happened to the first and are scared of being the second. Thirty years since Justin Fashanu came out, the world is a very different place, and if one player came out then a lot more would follow, but it’s very hard to take that step when probably everyone around you in the world of football is telling you it might backfire horribly. 

Why do you think there are so few openly gay footballers?

It’s because of the fear of the reaction from some fans, mostly opposition fans. Much of that fear will come from the board, managers and coaches. Most fans would be fine with it but it is the minority that is the issue – and the minority are usually the ones that shout the loudest. They will attack players for anything – and having a ready-made ‘reason’ such as being gay is a red rag to a bull. Fan mindsets need to change and this needs to happen through education; in football from the top level down to the grassroots game – clubs, leagues and the FA.

Do you think fans just see it as banter?

Some do – they feel it’s funny; it isn’t. Others will just say anything to try and but a player off. There are others who will genuinely hate gay people and gay players. Football fans are a passionate breed and sometimes they let that passion spill over.  

What challenges do you think footballers will face should they come out? Religion?

Religion probably isn’t such a big issue in the UK, but may be more so for a professional player from a more religious country. The challenges they would face would be intense media scrutiny, family perceptions and being comfortable with themselves.

What are your thoughts on the World Cups being allocated to Russia and Qatar in 2018/22 respectively? Have FIFA reversed all the good work which was being done around the world with regards to homophobic abuse in football? Have they made a mockery of it?

 

FIFA are a disgrace. It is great that they are trying to take football to all corners of the world – but those ‘corners’ need to be have a good look at themselves. The draconian measures that Russia have introduced are surprising and worrying for such a big and powerful country and with Qatar, everything needs to change to make it acceptable for gay people to go there, even more to live there.

 

Countries with poor human rights records should not be rewarded with major international tournaments.

Does the Premier League take enough action regarding the issue of homophobia? 

Statistically, there are many, many gay players in the Premier League. Village Manchester FC knows there are gay Premier League players. Fear of homophobia within their own club, and from their own and opposition fans, is stopping them from coming out. The League and the clubs need to offer support to the individual players, but more than that, they must punish any and every instance of homophobia. It starts with knowledge; every fan must understand that homophobia, like racism, is simply not acceptable and will be punished.  

The FA & campaigns

Do you feel the FA pay enough attention to homophobia in football, and what do you think they can do to help?

In the past few years the FA have started to take homophobia more seriously – but there is still a long way to go. Previously, they have seemed to concentrate on racism and anti-Semitism and paid no attention to homophobia. Now they are showing equal attention to these forms of abuse. They have started to introduce educational programmes but I think they need to have a wider ranging look at the issue. They need to educate clubs, players, managers, referees – and especially the fans. Campaigns such as the Rainbow Laces campaign really resonated with the public and more campaigns such as this need to be developed to create an on-going and constant debate on the issue. 

What needs to be done to improve the inclusivity of LGBT players in football?  

At the grassroots level, the single biggest improvement needs to be in the FA’s approach to tackling homophobia. When a complaint is made, the process can take six months to complete, and end with the offending players receiving what amounts to a rap on the knuckles. Grassroots players need to understand that homophobia, as well as being against the rules, is a hate crime and can result in a criminal conviction.  


At the professional level, players need to know their clubs, the leagues and the FA will support them. Time and again we hear people in other sports exclaim that coming out helped their mental health, which resulted in them being better at their chosen sport. In professional football, there is a fear of fan homophobia on the terraces. Players need to know that the clubs will not stand for that.  

How do you think bodies such as the FA/Premier League need to move forward?  

Both the FA and the Premier League simply need to show the abusive players and fans that homophobia will not be tolerated. Education campaigns are important, and Village Manchester FC fully supports them, but this needs to be backed up with serious sanctions for those who issue homophobic abuse. Homophobia is a hate crime and needs to be treated as such. Fans and opposition players at every level need to know that homophobia and racism will be met with fast action that deters others from similar abuse.

 
There are two things they can do: speed up the complaints procedure, and increase the sanctions to discourage future abuse. 

Are you aware of any campaigns that help support this issue? If so, are they doing enough/getting enough support from the FA etc?  

Autumn’s Rainbow Laces campaign, which started in football and has spread to many sports, and February’s Football v Homophobia Month, campaign to encourage inclusivity in football and remove homophobia. They have been well supported by both the FA and football leagues at every level. Village Manchester FC is in favour of all educational campaigns, and tangibly gets involved with them both. But, words are not enough. The FA in particular needs to back up these campaigns with improved complaints procedures and more punitive responses.  

Is enough being done by the FA and other governing boards to prevent homophobia in football? 

As you may be aware, we spoke to the media about this towards the end of 2019 and into 2020 with the intention of raising awareness around the FA process. In theory, the FA acts on homophobia in games. In practice the process can take up to six months to resolve, and because of the way the game works at grassroots it often comes down to one person’s word against another. Referees are supposed to act against any kind of abuse they hear, but they have to actually hear it. If they don’t (or say they don’t), there’s nothing they can do except mention in their report that they were told it happened. We believe the FA can and should reduce the time it takes to deal with abuse related hearings of all kinds; at the moment, the season could be over long before the hearing has taken place. 

Thoughts on the Rainbow Laces campaign. 

It’s good having a fun campaign instead of people thinking they are being preached at about not being homophobic. Having something simple like lacing your boots with rainbow laces is easy and something that anyone – young or old, male or female, gay or straight – can get involved in.

Have you received any support from the FA? 

As touched on before, they are beginning to do things but they should have started many years ago. They rule football and affect what happens throughout the game. They have the power to make a real difference. A professional player will come out in the next few years – the FA (and the clubs and other organisations) need to ensure that the player will have a safe and welcoming environment and that they have rules and safeguards in place to help the player.

How good is the FA at fighting homophobia?

There’s a world of difference between our local Manchester FA and the national FA at Wembley. 


Manchester FA has embraced anti-homophobia campaigns, organised inclusivity Rainbow Laces tournaments and we’ve met their chief executive on several occasions. We are pleased they won the 2021 Football Versus Homophobia FA award. We believe they listen, but there are limits on what they are able to do.


Unfortunately, it’s the FA, not Manchester FA, that determines complaints procedures, and this is where we have the biggest problem. It’s great to have campaigns, but they need to be in addition to strong procedures. Having experienced some of our worst ever homophobia in early 2020, this led to huge media interest in many national and local newspapers, television and radio and there was silence from the FA. After approaching the FA, it took them weeks to even reply, and months later we have heard of no improvements to their processes. 


Months later the FA chief executive held an LGBT+ football evening, and didn’t even bother to invite all the FA-affiliated LGBT+ clubs, indeed VMFC has never been invited to this annual event. It was disappointing that not long after, that same chief executive was forced to resign following inappropriate comments. 


We hope the FA will use this opportunity to employ a forward-thinking new chief executive where inclusivity – true Football For All – will form the basis of everything they do. 

Inclusive football

How important is the GFSN national gay league?

The league is a great idea as it brings teams from across the UK and Ireland together and is very competitive. Off the pitch the GFSN does a lot of work in the media and on social media and it is a great mouthpiece for its members. Playing teams from all over the country leads to a great social scene and friends everywhere. 

How if at all does an LGBT team differ from a straight team?

Does it differ at all? There is still banter and still the same level of competitiveness. With the GFSN league clubs get to travel all across Britain and with the international tournaments (such as EuroGames) we get to compete against teams from all across the world and get the opportunity to be crowned European or World champions – there are not too many Sunday league teams who get to say that!

 

A big difference is there have been instances where two players have started going out in a relationship, which is very sweet – both people obviously have a similar love of football and have faced a difficult decision in coming out – already they have quite a few things in common and this can only bode well for their future!

What is the purpose of a gay and inclusive football club?

The purpose is to provide an open, safe and friendly place for gay or bisexual players to come and play the sport they love without being judged or subject to prejudice. We, like quite a few gay teams, also have a few straight players. This is very important as it should all be about integration and acceptance.

With LGBT football teams like Village Manchester FC and others, do you think this will promote more players to be openly gay in football, if so why? 

Hard to say. We have openly gay players who have played for other teams. Generally speaking, people seem to be more accepting these days and each generation is becoming more progressive and open minded in that regard. There will be a natural progression where people care less about sexuality and aren’t so worried about being open with one another. That said, the gay clubs in this country have done a lot to show that gay and inclusive teams can exist and can compete in UK football, and having been around for over 25 years VMFC has certainly done its bit in that regard. 

In your opinion, do you believe we will begin to see a rise in popularity for all-inclusive clubs in the future?

If VMFC is anything to go by, inclusive clubs will continue to grow in popularity, and since lockdown we’ve had dozens of enquiries from new players. Many of the 20+ inclusive clubs in the UK and Ireland have traditionally only played in the gay leagues, but that is changing as more move into local leagues in order to guarantee more football. Playing against straight teams is also the best way of promoting inclusivity. 

Links

Match of the Gay

Manchester Evening News

3 October 1997

Queering the Pitch

Big Issue in the North

18-24 August 1997