Wembley’s 81000 ticket holders and global TV audience for the recent England Germany friendly saw historic barriers bridged with the poignant marking of Armistice Day by both teams. Reinhard Grindel, president of the German Football Association welcomed the marking of remembrance as an example of the values cherished by football: respect, tolerance, and humanity.
At the same game in the stands, those same values were affirmed by an en masse attendance of 100 LGBT+ fans; members of the Pride in Football network of supporter groups, from Arsenal’s Gay Gooners to Wolverhampton’s Molineux Pride. The growth of the LGBT+ supporter movement in UK leagues has been remarkable – from just 4 groups 3 years ago there are now 35 with more in development. The groups are working with their clubs to help make grounds more welcoming and improve the match day experience for everyone. And via in-stadium banners and a presence on social media the groups have made visible a community not traditionally associated with the game. This in turn seems to be moderating behaviour on the terraces; reducing homophobia and encouraging fans to challenge unacceptable language.
The LGBT+ England fans group, with the support of the FA, have been attending games together for the last 18 months – for qualifiers and friendlies at the Stadium of Light, the Etihad and Wembley and have made sure to have meet-ups before and after the game and add to their gallery of group photos with their rainbow flags and banners. Sarah, a Gay Gooner said of the games:
“It was flipping brilliant to be in a situation that was so emphatically LGBTI-inclusive. To be able to support the national team while being openly and comfortably myself was incredibly special”
And Lee, who took his partner (with some trepidation) to an England game for the first time, also rated the experience:
“This could be the start of tackling the taboo of gay fans actually liking football for the game.”
There is a real appetite for travel to next summer’s World Cup to support England but the enthusiasm is tempered by awareness of the Russian Federation’s laws and attitudes: Joe White, Campaign Lead for Pride in Football says:
“There are a number of us who are keen to go to and support England at the World Cup in Russia, but we all appreciate the potential risks we would be taking in attending to watch the game we love”.
So travel must be on the understanding that football’s national and international governing bodies exact from the Russian authorities confirmation that venues and host cities will ensure that all fans are welcome regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
It will also be important for the group to display – at least for sharing on social media – their iconic rainbow coloured three lion crest. Di Cunningham Chair of Pride in Football
“We have a duty to our Russian counterparts be visible, inspite or perhaps because of the Russian Federation’s ‘Gay Propaganda Law’ that bars their attendance as an identifiable group at games in their country.”