Stonewall FC, Britain's only 'out' gay football team, was bullish yesterday in New York waiting for the start of the fourth Gay Games - a sort of gay and lesbian Olympics.
David James, 47, manager of the London-based team and a former professional player, was making the usual England football manager noises: 'The lads have got a lot of ability. We won the Gay European championship. We're in with a very good chance.'
The team will have no more arduous matches than some of its recent fixtures in England. Playing in the markedly heterosexual world of London's Wandsworth and District Sunday league for the past three years the squad has faced casual abuse and occasional violence.
Roger Taylor, 31, the captain and an accountant, says the players are unfazed: 'We get abuse at times, more from girlfriends and kids on the touchline than other players, but it just makes us more determined. I left a straight team to join Stonewall FC because I was fed up of lying to myself. It wasn't my teammates that were the trouble, it was more the social element. After the games they would go out, have a few drinks, try and nick a few birds. I was never into that, obviously.'
Not all the team members are so sanguine. One, who did not want to be named, said fellow players at a straight club he still plays for might not want to be confronted with his sexuality: 'I think they know. But I don't talk about it and they don't ask.
'Stonewall FC doesn't look gay. We don't have any mincing. The only thing that gives us away are our short haircuts, and lots of professional players have those.'
A record 11,000 gay athletes from 44 countries are converging on New York city. Some 31 sports are included. The games were the brainchild of the late Dr Tom Waddell, a decathlete in the 1968 Mexico Olympics. His aim was to boost lesbian and gay self-respect through sport: 'To do one's personal best is the ultimate goal of human achievement.' That said, all competitors get a medal, regardless of whether they win.
The first games in San Francisco in 1982 saw 1,300 athletes from 12 nations. In Vancouver in 1990, 7,250 athletes attended from 30 nations.
Stonewall FC has entered into the spirit of the thing, rejigging the Village People gay anthem 'In The Navy' into a team song with the words 'In The Gay Games'. But, this aside, the team is in deadly earnest.
'This is bigger than the Commonwealth Games and we're going to try to do our country proud,' said one player. 'We've got a red, white and blue kit with British Lions on the front.
'Cologne are the team to watch; they beat us 1-0 in England last year but it wasn't our best side. This time we'll get through to the final and then we can do the business.' But even if they win, they will have to return to London and the taunts from the touchline.
Taylor is sanguine: 'If we couldn't play, then I'm sure it would be a lot worse. If we were going to give up we would have quit three years ago.'
Other players thought this too mild. 'They soon go quiet,' said one, 'when they find they've been beaten by a bunch of poofs.'
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