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 www.gfsnleague.co.uk