7 October ~ Brighton Bandits began their Gay Football Supporters Network (GFSN) Cup campaign on Sunday with a 3-3 home draw against Stonewall Apprentices. Having fallen 2-0 behind in the first half, the Bandits rallied and scrambled a last-minute leveller to hold the Londoners. Revamped over the summer, the GFSN Cup is now in its fifth season. It was introduced when the corresponding 11-a-side national league expanded to eight teams and has so far produced four different winners in its short existence.

The non-profit organisation that lends its name to the competition was established in 1989 as a medium for gay football fans to socialise. A four-team national league followed 13 years later and the network also assists the FA in its attempts to kick homophobia out of football. But homophobia is a society problem. When HotScots won the GFSN Cup in 2009, celebrations were forcibly subdued. "Some of our lads haven't come out yet so cannot bask in the limelight," said chairman Kevin Rowe at the time. "Some are teachers and policemen and still don't feel comfortable with being publicly outed." Brighton Bandits publicity officer Elliot Toms echoes Rowe's sentiments, highlighting the necessity of a set-up catering for LGBT footballers. "Mainstream football isn't appealing to gay people," says Toms. "It's not easy being openly gay in a traditionally homophobic environment, and hiding your sexuality is difficult."

The GFSN competitions prevent the need for social camouflage being thrust upon gay individuals wanting to play football. Both offer a nationwide social club too – Brighton and Stonewall shared a night on the town before their game, adhering to a GFSN custom that fuses playing football with a beer-fuelled social aspect. This emphasis on enjoyment and tolerance keeps member clubs paying the annual entrance fee. "Most of us have different aims to some gay community clubs, whose ambitions are progression in football," says Scott Lawley, publicity officer for current cup holders Nottingham BallBois.

New members are piling under the GFSN umbrella each year and this season sees a record 16 teams competing in the cup, alongside two six-team National Leagues – a regional group stage in the former contrasting with leagues split on ability. Scott Lawley adds: "Our aims are around inclusion and providing football opportunities regardless of results." Martyn Fisher


Comments (4)
Comment by Gerontophile 2010-10-08 01:49:26

Thanks to Martyn for this article.

As an out gay man, I disagree with Elliot Toms (slightly) when he says "Mainstream football isn't appealing to gay people. It's not easy being openly gay in a traditionally homophobic environment, and hiding your sexuality is difficult."

When you watch a match, your sexuality does not matter. You go to watch the skill, and your team (whether at the ground or in a (usually) straight bar... which might cause problems, admittedly).

However, I recently played for the Bandits in a pre-season friendly against a police team, and there was no problem whatsoever (other than the 2-2 draw). If anything, our lot were slightly more aggressive than them.

The main problem is the 'crowd mentality'.

When I lived in London, I took a friend to watch his first football match on TV, to a gay bar called 'Central Station' in Kings X. They had an upstairs sports bar, with Sky, and we watched the Man U v Arsenal game where Wiltord won the title for Arsenal. And it was a great atmosphere to be in. Fans of both sides, shouting, swearing and screaming for whomsoever, and if anyone had walked into that place, they would have just thought 'shit. football fans.

Not straight, not gay, just fans.

I suspect that what Elliot meant, was that it would be highly difficult for a gay player, who is good, to progress. And that is sad, and unfortunately, probably never going to happen in my lifetime.

Comment by fiorentina_turner 2010-10-08 09:25:56

Thanks for the insightful comment. But I agree with Elliot. He was referring to the generally daunting prospect of a gay man playing in a team of straight men. From my experience of playing for several parks teams, the conversational glue when a load of men come together for the first time is firstly about happenings in the Premier League. Then it's women. And the latter ensures that the insults flying around in training are ones questioning the sexuality of the target. I don't wish to generalise though - I'm just talking about the kind of conversation and insults I've witnessed whilst playing football. Maybe I just find Britain's most idiotic teams to play for.

As for the point about the Bandits being more aggressive than the Police team, playing an openly gay team is an entirely different matter to one gay individual playing in a team of macho straight men.

Here's what Village Manchester's Jason McAuley told me of their experience (they play in a local *straight* league): " I have played for the club for 6 years and can recall 2 instances where a supporter made a comment. It wasn't actually offensive and in fact I think we all laughed it off. We'd like to think that we give the opposition more than enough to think about from a footballing perspective, being homophobic (if indeed they were) is probably quite a long way down the list of priorities.....the top one being not allowing us to score a goal or watching us win the game"

Comment by Gerontophile 2010-10-08 12:17:13

I dont disagree, Fiorentina.

I agree entirely with the thing about letting the football do the talking. When I played for another gay team, you did get idiots in the other team trying to do the insidious insult thing, but a well placed boot usually took care of that. Once the game was underway, and the idiots realised that this was a football match, it wasnt about being gay/straight/alien, it was about beating the other team.

And thats all fine.

I cant speak for supporters. I have heard some very abhorrent things in my time, and to my shame, I have sung about some dreadful topics. I dont know what to say to stop these things being said/sung (in 'football coupon' games). I think I am sensible enough now to know the horror of what I did when I was younger (and still gay), but I dont think for a second that I am going to stand up in the middle of 40,000 fans and say, 'OY, you caaants, stop singing that about poofs, because I am a poof.' (Although I did do exactly that in a straight bar once, when a 'friend' was about to tell a very disgusting joke.)

Its not going to happen. I am not brave enough, and much as I wish otherwise, there are thousands and thousands of football-watching gay guys, who arent brave enough, either.

And as I have said previously, I have no argument about any of the above subjects... its about the fans/players/media who dont know or give a shit about it. I cant change any of that. Can anyone?

Comment by Toddacelli 2010-10-09 08:30:51

Football has a great history of bringing people together. Politically, socially and racially. The love of the game and the respect that can be generated by a worthy opponent truly is universal.
The problem lies with the idiots who will use any means they can get their hands on to bully their ill-informed and repugnant ideas across. Don't blame football, because that absolves the idiots of their own responsibility.
I was sad but not surprised to hear peoples comments on what they had to go through just to play the game they love with their local park team, but I would like to say that for those of you who were 'out' - you probably did more good than you could possibly realise.
By being a real person whom these guys played with and respected, you probably gave them a lot to think about and made them question their own attitudes. And this, is where change happens - with the individual. So for those of you brave enough to be 'out' I commend you as front-line warriors in the war against ignorance.

Best of luck,
From a dirty great big 'straighty'.

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