Tackling Homophobia In Football

Make football a place for all. That’s the pipe dream.

Anyone who knows me knows that homophobia in football is an issue that I’ve always felt strongly about. As a heterosexual male I’m extremely fortunate never to have experienced such prejudices, but some subjects (whether they directly impact you or not) just get you where it hurts.

For a multi-billion pound industry, football is guilty of living in the dark ages at times. Homophobia being so prevalent in the sport is the perfect example.

There are 92 teams in the English football league each consisting of on average 25 players, that’s 2300 players in England alone and not a single individual is openly gay. I get it, but I also DON’T GET IT. Is it fear of a fans backlash? Fear of losing a contract? Fear of press attention? All I know is ‘fear’ should not be a factor when it comes to anyone’s sexual orientation. More has to be done by the powers that be to create a safe environment that doesn’t force players to hide their sexuality. Perhaps tackling this issue once and for all would be FIFA’s chance to redeem themselves for all the bullsh*t of the last 20 years?

It’s important to acknowledge that not all players want to come out, but it’s up to everyone involved in the sport to ensure that the ones who do want to – can.

The LGBT community is full of incredible spokespeople who fight these issues on a daily basis, but I also believe in ALL OF US doing the little bit that we can to show our support, and proudly wearing these stripes is the little bit that I can do.

What we need to remember is that people aren’t looking for an excuse to flaunt their sexuality in our faces, they’re simply just looking for a safe space to exist as who they truly are. How can anyone in football (and beyond) argue with that?

I have to give a massive shout-out to both Deportivo Guadalajara and Real Vallecano in Spain who released these rainbow strips to support gay pride and an to push for an end to homophobia in football. The gesture went widely under the radar in the UK when it happened back in 2015, but perhaps sooner rather than later British clubs will start to follow suit.

Let football be about 90 minutes and let footballers be who they are, as they are .

Coming Out In Football

Homophobia in football is an issue which has captured the hearts of many. From the tragic circumstances of Justin Fashanu to the ray of light that is Robbie Rogers and Thomas Hitzelsperger, this is one topic never short of opinions. Last month you may have been one of five million viewers who tuned in to watch The One Show as presenter Richie Anderson produced a truly inspirational feature on the subject in which he also came out to his Sunday league team mates. This week, I got to ask him all about it.

Hi Richie, tell us first of all what inspired you to do the feature? I’m a massive football fan and have played the game at grassroots level for the last 20 years. As a gay man I’ve been struck by the lack of gay professionals in the game and how at grassroots level it’s assumed everybody that plays is straight. So I wanted to highlight to the nation this isn’t always the case. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’ve heard gay slurs passed off as ‘banter’ in the changing room and I’ve had to sit there quietly or laugh along. So I see this as making a stand against that! Also, coming out is a very difficult part of being gay, so I wanted to show how accepting most people are in 2018. When I was 19 and was worried about coming out it would have really helped me. My team mates probably aren’t aware of the positive impact they’ve had with their incredible reaction and they should be so proud!

In the feature you referenced LGBT friendly teams playing in a gay league, as wonderfully positive it is that such things exist is it a sad state of affairs that there was a need to differentiate teams in the first place? I myself have played in LBGT friendly leagues and I joined one not long after coming out when I didn’t know many gay people, so it’s certainly a great way to socialise and meet other like-minded people. Sadly, there are some gay footballers who play in these leagues because in a straight team they find it hard to fit in with the dressing room culture. In my film I met a gay footballer that came out to his straight team and was made to feel so uncomfortable he left which is an issue that The FA needs to deal with, that was so sad to hear. I think it’s nice there are LGBT leagues because it caters for all abilities but the issue is the fact people are playing in those league because they haven’t been made to feel welcome elsewhere. It would be nice if more of those LGBT teams were given the opportunity to play friendlies against straight teams or were allowed to get involved in more mainstream leagues.

Even I felt nervous as you were making your way to the dressing room to tell your teammates you were gay, what was going through your head as you were walking off at full-time? In my heart of hearts I knew they would be fine with me being gay because they’re a great bunch of lads. My biggest worry was that they would feel deceived that I hadn’t told them sooner and obviously we had a camera crew filming us which they thought was for a film about grassroots football so I was scared they would feel misled and react badly. Also, because I was coming out I was hoping they would react positively because I knew it would be watched by 5 million people and if the reaction was negative that could impact on people all over the country who were struggling with their sexuality. I had a really bad game because I couldn’t concentrate and I was even subbed off with 20 minutes to go so I guess the big moment was playing on my mind, I managed to score but I was certainly distracted. When I actually sat down and made the announcement it was daunting to sit there in front of 18 men and open up and be so personal. My heart was pounding!

I don’t mind admitting that I was almost a little bit choked up by the reaction from your teammates, for anyone who hasn’t seen the feature tell us what the reaction was and how much it meant to you. When I came out as gay they all applauded and hugged me and the nice thing was when the cameras stopped rolling we all went back to the pub and they were asking me lots of questions about me and my partner which was nice they were so interested. We also have a group chat on Facebook and they have been so supportive in that. It meant the world to me, it’s a big deal to open up about something so personal and if the person or people you open up to take it badly it can be soul destroying. I felt so relieved and humbled. Coming out as gay isn’t something that’s associated with football changing rooms so it was nice to break that barrier and challenge the norm.

There are constant rumours of high-profile players being on the verge of coming out, if this were to happen what impact do you foresee this having? Is there potential for a domino effect? I think it’s only right for professional players to come out when they’re ready to. I do wonder with all the media scrutiny how it would affect them mentally. Say if you’re a low-key, mid-table Premier League player, doing something like this will catapult you into the public eye. I would like to think if a player came out they would be very much supported by the fans. I think the rumours don’t help though, it’s effectively the press proving they’ll be like a pack of wolves when a player does finally come out.

Given the positive reactions to some well known Rugby players coming out, are you surprised this didn’t have more of a knock on effect in football? Football crowds are very different to rugby crowds. The etiquette in football is very different to rugby. Rugby players, barring the ones at the very top, aren’t open to the scrutiny Premier League players are. The Gareth Thomas situation was fantastic, wouldn’t it be amazing if that happened in football!

The more I look at the issue of homophobia in football the more respect I have for LA Galaxy’s former Leeds United star Robbie Rogers, does this guy get the credit he deserves? I have a lot of time for Robbie Rogers, he was very brave to come out whilst still playing. It would have been very easy for him to have waited until he retired. It’s a shame he didn’t stay in England for longer but I love the fact he’s been so embraced. I think because he’s American and plays in the States the media over here haven’t given him too much publicity for what he did, but it’s 2018 and being gay shouldn’t be a massive issue. If he was English I wonder if his whole private life would have been splashed over the tabloids? He’s certainly a role model and I thinks it’s nice he’s allowed to just play football and not be labelled as ‘the gay one.’

Is there more that footballing bodies can be doing both locally and nationally to tackle the issue? Certainly at grass roots level. I think referees at that level need to be making the point that homophobia is treated on par with racism and if anybody is guilt they’ll be banned and fined. I respect what The FA has done with rainbow laces etc but again I feel that as a mixed race football fan I won’t hear racism at a match because fans know they’ll get the book thrown at them. I recently went to a match between West Brom and Brighton and a couple of WBA fans (literally one or two) started a homophobic chant and nobody batted an eyelid. Thankfully nobody joined in!

 

PTB Meets Former Corrie Star Charlie Condou

Veteran of a variety of challenging roles, Charlie Condou is perhaps best known for his portrayal of midwife Marcus Dent in Coronation Street. An ambassador for the gay community, Charlie is a proud supporter of Manchester Pride and a patron for charities Diversity Role Models and The Albert Kennedy Trust. Recently I caught up with Charlie to talk acting, marriage and his idea of romance.

Hi Charlie, you’ve starred in a number of vastly different roles over the years, at what point did it really click that you had made it as an actor?

I’m not entirely sure I have made it! I suppose Corrie gave me the fame side of the business but I’d worked fairly consistently for a good ten years before that. I guess when I realised that I could support myself and my family through acting without having to get part time work in between jobs, that was when I knew I was successful. I’m always convinced each part I get is my last though!!

As a profession, a jobbing actor can often be portrayed as a struggle, was there ever a time when you were tempted by the 9 to 5?

Oh God yes! Many, many times. Being an actor is HARD. Not the acting part – that’s the bit we can do. It’s the long periods of being out of work that’s the real struggle. I’m sure I would’ve jacked it all in on a number of occasions if there’d been ANYTHING else I thought I was any good at

You’ve featured heavily in a number of pride lists in recent years, what advice would you give to men young and old struggling to come to terms with their sexuality?

It’s very difficult to advise anyone in this situation because you’re asking them to confront their fears and that’s something people have to come to themselves. But in my experience (and the experiences of many friends), it’s not nearly as frightening as you think it’s going to be. Be true to yourself, lead an honest life as best you can and accept yourself as you truly are. The rest is easy.

Appearing on British soaps such as Coronation Street can often propel an actor into the limelight, how did your role as Marcus affect your every day life?

It’s very strange going from basic anonymity to suddenly being recognised by a huge part of the population virtually overnight, but that’s what happens when you’re on a show like Corrie. It’s been a good few years for me now so Im used to it, but like most of the cast, I found it quite overwhelming at first.

Congratulations on your recent marriage to the handsome Cameron, how did you know he was the one?

I’m not sure he is the one, I just wanted to get my first marriage out of the way early! Seriously though, I knew very early on that I was in love with him, but more importantly, that he was someone I wanted to spend my life with. We’ve been together 10 years now and while it hasn’t always been a bed of roses, I love him more now than I ever have. It doesn’t hurt that he’s fairly easy on the eye either.

Any dating horror stories?

Yup, loads, and none that I’m sharing! They all know who they are.

What’s the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for you?

It’s the small things that Cam does that I love. We’re not ones for big romantic gestures; we don’t buy flowers or even celebrate Valentines day. But he brings me a cup of tea and something to eat when I’m working hard or he cooks a meal that he knows I love. I suppose he thinks about me first and often knows what I need before I do. That’s the stuff I find romantic.

Online dating: Curse or Convenience?

I’ve been in a relationship for a long time so Grindr and the likes have passed me by. But I remember Gaydar and I think like all things, it’s fine if you know what it’s all about. Sometimes you just want sex, and that’s ok. But those sites can become compulsive and that can be a real problem for gay men.

Teen crush?

Rob Lowe, who I’ve actually just worked with. He’s a lovely man and still as sexy as he was when I was 15.

Does our perception of love change as we get older?

No idea, I’m still working it out. But I think what we want changes, so we look for different things.

What’s next for Charlie Condou?

I have two shows coming out, one for Channel 4 and one for Sky. Im developing a comedy series, working on a book, getting a treatment together for a documentary and trying to focus on my company Out With the Family. This, while trying to spend more time with Cam and the kids. So it’s fairly quiet at the mo!

Check out Charlie’s website www.outwiththefamily.co.uk, an organisation aimed at bringing together LGBT families to aid networking of gay parents and children of same-sex parents.

*main image courtesy of Magweb

Why Coming Out Could Save Your Life

As 2014 enters it’s closing months it’s proving to be a year of progress for gay sports men and women. The issue will sadly continue to be a taboo subject but progress is definitely the right way of putting it.

Olympic swimming legend Ian Thorpe spoke publicly for the first time about his long-hidden sexuality and how his denial was sparked by fear of a backlash from the Australian public. This is an issue affecting men and women across the world on a daily basis and I can only echo what has been said countless times before – why? I’ve known people in my life tormented by the same problem and I take my hat off to Thorpe. It’s no picnic hiding your true self, gay or otherwise. The prejudice of sexuality in sport has raised its ugly head on several occasions in recent years. In professional soccer alone FIFA estimates there are over 265 million male and female players and yet only a small handful is openly gay. This statistic serves to remind us of how society’s outdated attitudes are forcing good people to live ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ heterosexual lives. But what is ‘normal’ anymore? What is ‘acceptable’? Our perceptions have to change.

Marcus, an old school friend of mine came out two years ago at the age of 26. These past two years have been without question the best of his life. His new found happiness however was only achieved after many years of denial and painful self-discovery. Marcus is from a strong catholic background, not all Catholics are homophobic but there are obviously certain anti-gay teachings that many adhere to. We became firm friends at the age of 15 but I had suspected he was gay the moment I clapped eyes on him 3 years earlier. Marcus was the type who would joke around innocently fondling girls but always getting away with it because they assumed he was gay. I didn’t dare share my thoughts with anyone else, the potential social consequences at high school were regrettable and it simply wasn’t my place to say. As we got to know each other we began having many deep and meaningful conversations. We talked endlessly about life, girls, football, our studies, typical teenage boy stuff. I had always expected him to privately tell me he was gay but that long-awaited conversation never came to fruition. What he did tell me however shocked me to my very core. He told me that he had tried to take his life on three separate occasions. I was in shock, we all go through difficult times in our adolescent lives but I never imagined his problems had reached such a drastic point. The biggest problem Marcus explained was his frustration at not being able to pinpoint why he felt the way he did. I had my suspicions that it was either depression or issues with his sexuality. Maybe he couldn’t accept it or maybe he just didn’t realize it? At the time I hadn’t wanted to say in case I only made the situation worse. I could never imagine how scary it would be at that age to suddenly realize you weren’t what was expected of you.

Soon we would leave school and start university together. If there was ever a time to come out I always believed this was it. Gone were the constraints of school life, the judgment, the masks we all wore to survive. I myself had even rebelled a little, gone was the quiet 17 year old replaced by a long-haired and pierced Led Zeppelin enthusiast. Marcus however remained the same awkward teenager who every day was looking more and more uncomfortable in his own skin. I sympathized, I really did but how can you tell someone they are gay without being certain they even know them self? I decided it was vital he made this discovery without my influence. We would go out a lot in those days, enjoying the new found freedoms of student life in abundance. Naturally we met a lot of girls, Marcus got his fair share of attention but he would never ever reciprocate. I’d noticed on a number of occasions he actually looked rather upset when a girl would approach him, it was like he desperately wanted to be interested but something was holding him back.

At the end of first year we lost touch. We drifted into different crowds and Marcus soon left the country to work abroad for a year. I would think about him all the time, for so long I just wanted him to be honest and know that there was at least one person who would support and accept him no matter what. I often wondered if going abroad was really for career purposes as he’d said or if it was just a much needed escape from reality. Then in the summer of 2012, as I arrived at my front door after a day’s work I saw Marcus standing there waiting. He looked exactly the same and yet somehow completely different. It was the first time I’d seen him for around five years and the first time I’d seen him smile since we were about fifteen. We spoke for hours.

Marcus was now a happy and proud, gay man. He told me of how his year abroad had been the worst of his life; he had tried to take his life for a fourth time. He hadn’t wanted to die, he simply couldn’t stand to feel the way he did anymore. He had finally been backed into a corner and realized it was time to make a change, his life quite simply depended on it. Marcus explained that his sexuality had crossed his mind many times over the years but that he could never make sense of his feelings as he had no desire to be with either a man or a woman. As it turned out not being interested in women was just the beginning to a lengthy process of realizing he was interested in men. In tackling his problems Marcus first spoke to the one member of his family that he felt would have the most positive reaction and things gradually progressed from there. His family were devout Catholics but monsters they were not. They supported him in every way imaginable and wished only that he had come to them sooner. It just goes to show that people might just surprise you with their reactions. I sincerely hope other families out there can show the same understanding that Marcus’ did.

It’s always easier said than done, but people have asked me what they should do in these situations and I always say the same thing – do everything in your power to accept yourself. Be comfortable with who you are, maybe this will put those around you at ease as well and if anyone has a problem with it then they’re probably not worth having in your life. Being gay is not a crime. Try to seek inspiration from those in the public eye and try to relate to the immense scrutiny they have faced, people who have achieved great things irrespective of race, background and most definitely of sexuality. Soccer players Robbie Rogers and Thomas Hitzelsperger, Basketball player Jason Collins, NFL star Michael Sam and now Olympic legend Ian Thorpe, these are the modern day suffragettes of the gay community. If you find yourself in the same situation as my good friend Marcus then look up to these people if they can do it there’s no reason why you can’t, so long as you want to. Marcus’ journey was so very nearly a tragic one but coming out freed him from what he called a ‘straightjacket of heterosexuality’. It quite literally saved his life.

Don’t let your journey be tragic.