There has been much media amusement at Liverpool FC’s directive for fans to cease shouting expressions such as 'Man Up!' 'Don’t play like a girl' and 'That's gay.' The 'Political-Correctness-Gone Mad' brigade have predictably gone er, ‘mad’ (itself an offensive word), yet such expressions are surely out of kilter with modern society.
As a football fan who grew up on the terraces during the 70s and 80s, blatant racism and homophobia were not only tolerated but actually encouraged in a culture where white, working class males watched other white, working class males perform in white, working class cities and towns.
The homoerotic nature of football supporting was perhaps masked by fan attitudes towards players who displayed what they perceived as ‘unmanly’ traits; these included the following :
Avoiding a tackle
Having long hair
Not sporting a muzzy
Groaning after your leg’s been broken in three places
Now, as a red-blooded heterosexual and father of two (OK, I’M STRAIGHTER THAN A ROMAN ROAD, RIGHT?) I find all these phrases offensive but not the obvious ones. Of course ‘playing like a girl’ and ‘that’s gay’ are chauvinistic and homophobic but it’s ‘Man Up!’ that really gets my goat (no offence intended to the Capra aegagrus hircus species). I find ‘Man Up!’ offensive on many levels.
Firstly, anyone who utters such a preposterous phrase is exactly the type of person who calls people ‘guys.’ The ‘Man Up!’ mob have probably never had a fight in their lives, yet desperately want to be seen as tough. They have ridiculous tribal tats and drink expensive bottled lager just like the ‘lads’ in the lager adverts.
Secondly, it makes no sense. I’m not sure how one does “Man Up!” I’ve heard of “Man Down!” in a military sense of losing a soldier (or player) but ‘man up?’ If by ‘man up’ it is assumed that the male in question must adhere to some collective orthodoxy of manly qualities, then I’d like to peruse this list myself.
Footballers and all sportsmen and athletes operate in the most homosocial arena (apart from battlefields of course). Overwhelmingly male, the crowds tend to adopt a kind of herd mentality regardless of age, race, religion or class. Gotta be one of the boys, the lads, the 'fellars', the 'guys.' It's within this context that homophobia remains a taboo that needs confronting. It’s all too easy to laugh off Liverpool’s attempt at defining insulting words and phrases as PCGM or ‘nanny state’ newspeak.
What is ‘gay’ about a bad pass, a missed penalty, a poor free kick? Why are players ‘gay’ if they don’t jump into every 50/50 tackle without a care for a career-ending injury? What is ‘girly’ about reacting to an elbow, kick, stamp or punch?
That these attitudes and behaviours in football have been indulged for so long by other men in positions of power only highlights how language works as a method of camouflaging reality. Many footballers are gay. We know this. Many football fans are gay. We know this too. Both players and fans still feel that they have to hide their sexuality because of the deluded, macho culture of football. Instead of sneering, we should be applauding Liverpool FC in their stand against prejudice.