The last nine months or so have not been easy for Liverpool Football Club. Winning the League Cup couldn’t paper over the cracks in the playing side of the clubs affairs, with a disappointing Premier League performance being enough to end the return of Kenny Dalglish. Since then, though, things have been a little more optimistic looking. The appointment of Brendan Rodgers as manager has a hint of risk about it, but early impressions have been of an intelligent man with a thorough understanding of the scale of the task ahead of him and the weight of history that the club carries, whilst rumours of, for example, the impending departure of Luis Suarez have proved – thus far – to be no more than hot air. There remains a little uncertainty around Anfield, but the club will at least start the coming season with at least a little of its poise regained.
This week, however, we have seen a very positive announcement from the club when it confirmed that it would be entering into Liverpool’s gay pride festivities next month. Such a decision is unprecedented for a club the size of Liverpool. It has been confirmed that the club will not be sending any of its players to the carnival. This is somewhat unfortunate, but it is probably not surprising when we consider that the team is on a pre-season tour of North America at the time. However, the fact that the club is happily willing to support it lends valuable publicity to the event itself as well as sending an extremely positive message on the continued importance of standing up against homophobia in football (as well, of course, as in society in a wider sense), and it is not the first time that the club has been involved in such initiatives, either – earlier this year, the clubs academy played host to the annual Football v Homophobia tournament.
It would, as the events of last season showed us in so many different respects, be foolhardy to seek to claim that Britain is the unreservedly tolerant society that some might seek to claim. The lunacy of social media networks, however, should not blind us to the positive steps that have been taken with regard to the stigmatisation and hopefully the eventual eradication of racism and homophobia in football in this country. The Kick It Out anti-racism campaign is well-established, having been set almost twenty years ago, and holds a very high profile within the game. Over the last few seasons, though, considerable amounts of time and effort have also been put into the raising of awareness of ongoing issues relating to homophobia in football by organisations such as The Justin Campaign and progress is definitely being made in this respect, although there remains much work to be done. We don’t need to draw up yet another list of the varying ways in which some supporters, football clubs, footballers and the football media have managed to disgrace themselves in public in recent years in order to make that point.
The times, however, are a-changing. When BBC3 broadcast Britains Gay Footballers, a documentary about the lack of openly gay players in the professional game, earlier this year its audience was fifty per cent up on the average for the time slot in which it was shown, and in its aftermath came a slew of thoughtful articles in both the mainstream media and the independent and online press which seemed to get to grips with the issue of homophobia in professional football in a way that had only sporadically been done before. As long ago as 2006, for example, Manchester City signed up to a program designed to help it to attract more gay supporters and employees “to send a welcoming message to gay, lesbian and bisexual supporters, be inclusive and be a progressive employer.” Yet the perception – at the very least the perception – has remained that football as a game is still entrapped by homophobia, and the only way that this can be addressed is through clubs getting involved in initiatives which make it clear that such behaviour is not acceptable in any way, from anybody associated with the game. It is, perhaps, easy to be cynical about the motives of clubs that get involved in such initiatives, but perhaps it is healthier to take these at face value whilst cotinuing to push for all in a position to do so – we’re looking at you here, the FA – to agitate for a more inclusive environment in football in this country for all, in both the dressing rooms and on the terraces.
For a Premier League football club to become officially involved in such an event as a Pride parade, however, certainly feels like something of a definite step in the right direction. Though it may be completely obvious and intuitive for us to believe that football clubs should be involved in such inclusive events, to do not do so – and in particular to not be the first to do so – could be considered to be the “easier” option for clubs to take. It is to be hoped that Liverpool Football Club is a trailblazer in this respect, and that other clubs make similar public statements of intent with regard to how they intend to treat homophobia in football. There’s a long way to go, but with gestures such as this there starts to form a feeling that definite progress is being made towards a time when any form of exclusion from our game on the basis of race, gender or sexuality is treated as a relic from a less enlightened age.
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