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Football v Homophobia – Month of Action starts today

Lou at the Etihad.

Lou at the Etihad.

February’s Football v Homophobia Month of Action kicks off today with the campaign asking supporters, clubs, players and the football authorities to focus their efforts on challenging homophobic attitudes and ensuring the game is open to all. We can never rest easy while homophobic and illegal songs are still being chanted in our stadiums.

We caught up with Football v Homophobia’s Lou Englefield (left) to tell us more…

Lou: We have seen a rise in homophobic chanting in recent years. I’ve been speaking to colleagues who run fan groups who’ve heard types of abuse shouted that hadn’t been heard for years.

The FSA: And supporters’ groups can play an active role in challenging that?

Lou: Many of the big clubs have supporters’ group branches all over the world, while all supporters groups and trusts can share messages of inclusion. When some of the branches at my club Manchester City got involved with Football v Homophobia it was really powerful. 

The FSA: And what can supporters’ groups do?

Lou: The month of action is a really good time for people to talk about the issues of LGBTQ+ inclusion. If you have a mailing list and you regularly send mail outs, it would be really good to include something. Is there an LGBTQ+ fan group at your club? Maybe it’s an opportunity to profile them. If there’s not one you will have LGBTQ+ fans and you could ask if there are any fans who’d like to write or talk about their experiences. We need supporters’ groups and clubs to show leadership too. 

[Editor’s note – if you’re a supporters group who’d like to do something in this area our Fans for Diversity team can help. Get in touch.]

It’s ok if the FA say don’t chant this or don’t chant that but we’re most influenced by the clubs we support and the fans around us. The North Stand group at Brighton have taken banners in with amazing activations and visibility. We can be quite an invisible minority largely so allies give people confidence.

We work all year round, there’s always something going on. We’ve had our hands full with the World Cup, then February’s month of action leading into the Football v Transphobia weekend of action at the end of March. 

The FSA: Winding back a little – where did your love of the game come from?

Lou: I played as a young kid in the 1970s but there wasn’t a lot of infrastructure for girls to play football then, so I ended up playing hockey. But in my mid-20s a friend started playing for a women’s club in Nottingham and invited me along, so I ended up playing for the second team. I then stopped playing for years but another friend was a Manchester City fan – born a blue, came from a City family – and she basically invited me to Maine Road around the time the club got through to that play-off final against Gillingham. 

Lou: My friend had gone off to Wembley. There was so much excitement about it, a massive occasion, so I ended up listening on the radio because that was the place to interact with football then. I was absolutely gripped by it and started going to Maine Road with her when there was a ticket available. I remember a lot of away games around that time too, driving back home in the dark in winter.

The FSA: And what about Football v Homophobia – what was the spark for that?

Lou: Football v Homophobia was started by the Justin Campaign in 2010. A handful of people in the community were talking about LGBT+ inclusion in football back then. I work for Pride Sports and we brought everybody together and had a strategic meeting about where we wanted to be in 10 years time.

The Justin Campaign went away and basically invented Football v Homophobia – it was really needed. The right thing at the right time. The Justin Campaign was run by volunteers with full time jobs, so they asked Pride Sports to help them run it. It ran like that for a few seasons before Pride Sports took over delivery in 2013/14.

The FSA: And how are things looking more than a decade down the line?

Lou: It’s such a long time ago but I remember two things we hoped for when Football v Homophobia was launched – one was that there would be gay footballers who felt comfortable to come out in the professional game [this happened in 2022] and the other was that LGBTQ+ people would feel safe and visible at games.

We could not have imagined then, in 2008/09, we just didn’t imagine for a minute there would be 50+ LGBTQ+ fan groups in 2023. I can remember, when Pride Sports was first around, having conversations with people who thought you were talking about sex when you brought up LGBTQ+ issues, they thought it was embarrassing and shouldn’t be talked about outside the bedroom. Things have moved on massively.

It’s really important for LGBTQ+ fan groups to have a dialogue with the wider fan community and for those groups to be part of the wider fan movement. You can see that in the way, for example, Kop Outs! at Liverpool campaigns around foodbanks. You really get a sense they’re embedded in the community and the club. 

Thanks for your time Lou!

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