Barely a quarter of Premier League and Football League clubs have joined a new anti-homophobia campaign which is seeking to drive one of the most stubborn forms of discrimination out of the game.
Though Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal have all signed up to the Football v Homophobia campaign which commits them to combating homophobia, only 12 of the top division’s 20 clubs are supporting it, with a mere 17 of the Football League’s 72 clubs on board. The take-up reveals the reluctance many on the game have to speak out on homophobia.
The former Leeds winger Robbie Rogers and ex-Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger have revealed that they are gay - but both waited until they stopped playing before doing so. Though there is a belief among professionals that there will be a positive dressing room reaction to any player who comes out, it is the terraces which present the potential problem. Rival fans could potentially use a player’s sexuality as a way to inflict abuse during a game, which is why the new campaign needs clubs to be visibly and proactively supportive.
The Football Association is also seeking to educate managers on its Pro License courses. But discussions of the issue on some courses has revealed a belief among some managers that the attention which a player coming out would bring to a club would be an unwelcome distraction, particularly if that club were in the lower leagues and less able to handle it.
Manchester United’s contribution to the campaign is a supportive statement in the club programme, while Liverpool hosted a match between two gay-friendly teams at the Kirkby academy last weekend. Mersey Marauders played Wolverhampton Harts. “It gives us a real opportunity to demonstrate our stance against discrimination,” said Rishi Jain, the club’s inclusion officer.
West Ham United kicked off a month of action in February by wearing Football v Homophobia T-shirts before their 2-0 win over Swansea last Saturday. Other top flight clubs such as Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Everton, Stoke and Sunderland are set to follow suit via a range of promotional methods.
Football v Homophobia co-director Megan Worthing-Davies said she hoped the campaign would avoid football's obsession with players coming out and concentrate on building a more tolerant culture than the one that has seen Brighton & Hove Albion fans be among those subjected to homophobic abuse. “We are extremely happy to see some of the biggest clubs in the country showing leadership on tackling homophobia and hope that their involvement will encourage a critical mass of clubs to get on board with the campaign,” said Worthing-Davies.
Clubs supporting the campaign:
Premier League: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Crystal Palace, Everton, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Stoke, Sunderland, Tottenham, West Ham
Championship: Derby, Huddersfield, Millwall
League One: Bradford, Brentford, Coventry, Gillingham, MK Dons, Oldham, Walsall
League Two: Chesterfield, Exeter, Mansfield, Northampton, Portsmouth, Wycombe, York