February of each year is a very important month in the football calendar, as it marks the Football v Homophobia Month of Action campaign and celebrates LGBT History. Football v Homophobia exists to challenge discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression at all levels in football. Football v Homophobia is an international initiative that engages in campaigning, education, advice and guidance, research, policy consultation and capacity building to make existing football structures safe, welcoming, and inclusive for LGBTQI+ people and to realise the potential of football in society as a tool for creating positive change.
After speaking with our friends at Charlton Invicta FC earlier in the season to find out about their first steps into affiliated league football to mark Rainbow Laces, we have checked in with the inaugural 2020 Football v Homophobia Grassroots Football Award winners once again. This time we spoke to Patrick O’Connor, Dean Chambers and Scott Anderson - some of Invicta’s heterosexual players to discuss allyship, how as allies they are helping to break down barriers for their LGBTQI+ teammates and what others can do to take action to tackle LGBTQI+ discrimination in football.
We know Invicta prides itself on being a club where everyone is welcome, so how important is it that football is an environment where everyone should feel welcome and able to be themselves?
“The real world is so tough. Everything we do in today's world is rushed and everyone is under pressure. People are suffering from so much stress and mental health issues trying to fit into society and its rigid structures. Football is called the beautiful game, and it is because when you’re playing football nothing else matters. Being your real true self is something we as the human race don't treasure enough. I think clubs like ours opening their doors to anyone and everyone is so fantastic. To be yourself in a safe environment is therapy for the soul” - Dean Chambers.
“For me, the pitch has been an environment that I can forget the struggles of life. I went through a period of 5 years where I wasn’t working and being a stay-at-home dad, so football was all I had to get me out of the house and keep me sane. Likewise, when I went through a marriage break up I was probably at the lowest point in my life so far as I lost precious time with my kids and it was a struggle to do anything.
Football is great for my mental health personally and I see as an ally that it also provides a safe but equal environment for those from the LGBTQI+ community.” - Patrick O’Connor.
What does Football v Homophobia mean to you as individuals and collectively as a group?
“The FootballvHomophobia campaign wasn’t something I was aware of before I joined Charlton Invicta. Being a standard run of the mill working straight white guy I had no friends in the LGBTQI+ community, so it wasn't until I joined Invicta that I began to understand just how bad Homophobia was. I knew words being said would hurt people, but I didn't realise quite how prominent it was. I don't understand why anyone takes issue with a person's sexuality. Being part of this team and being in some ways part of the FootballvHomopobia movement I do admire the hard work that goes into trying to make football more accepting of people's sexuality” - Dean
As heterosexual individuals why are you proud to be allies to your LGBTQI+ teammates and friends and why is that allyship so important within the football community?
"Somewhere they can stand and compete side by side with fellow players from the LGBTQI+ community and allies alike” - Patrick
“As an ally, I want to play football in an environment where everyone is free to be who they want to be, embrace who they are, and allow everyone the opportunity to play sport the way it should be; without prejudice or outdated beliefs” - Scott Anderson
What barriers you are helping to break down and are encouraging your teammates to overcome so that they can enjoy football without fear of discrimination and homophobic abuse?
“I have been visible about who I play for and what the Club is about. I do get questionable looks at first and the odd remark. I’m proud to be part of a club trying to make a difference. I try to use my place at Invicta to spread knowledge to people who may be uneducated in the topic” - Dean
There may be others reading this, who have teammates who are LGBTQI+, who want to be supportive but aren’t sure how to be an ally. What can those individuals do to make that step to become allies?
“Invicta being open to everyone allows allies inside the LGBTQI+ community which I feel gives more acceptance and also a more educated outlook on peoples choices” - Patrick
“The first step is education. We don’t always know the right things to say and at times we say the wrong things without knowing the effect they can have on others. We can all learn new things and educate ourselves and others. That’s what I did at Invicta. Coaches and players helped to educate me on the meaning of words and phrases and how hurtful they can be. Educate yourself and you’re halfway there” - Dean
Have you ever witnessed teammates or friends receive homophobic abuse at football, whether that be on the pitch or as spectators? What impact did it have on them and how did it make you feel/what did you do?
“The day everyone feels free to play football in the same welcoming environment, is the day that FvH can hang up its boots. In a literal sense, everyone can walk onto a football pitch and play football, but not everyone feels welcomed enough to be able to do it, and this is the problem. It's why Charlton Invicta is such a brilliant team to play for - because everyone feels free to do get together and share their love for the game. The players are no less gifted, no older, no younger, no less competitive” - Scott
“No, I don't think I have. I suppose perhaps that can be considered lucky. However, I have been around people making jokes that seem harmless in some circles but can be spiteful even if that's not the intention. We all just need to be mindful about the people around us” - Dean
Sadly, we know that unfortunately homophobic discrimination still takes place in football, with rarely a weekend going by without some kind of incident, so what would you say to anyone who hears or witnesses homophobic abuse on a football pitch and what would you encourage them to do?
“The sad reality is that homophobia isn't going away anytime soon. It's regularly shouted from the stands at Premier League games, right down to the sidelines of Sunday League games. I've witnessed both, and still do” - Scott
And finally, what would you encourage others to do, to play their part and show their support for Football v Homophobia 2022 no matter how big or small?
“Being a straight man does not affect a gay person's life but being an ally can make an impact in the LGBTQI+ community” - Patrick
“I stand with my team-mates in support of the FootballvHomophobia campaign, where we can try and educate people away from the outdated negative connotations, and finally see homophobia kicked out of football” - Scott