Beautifying the beautiful game
Football may be “the beautiful game” but, despite significant strides in the right direction, it still has its ugly side. The decision to host this year's World Cup in Qatar, where it is a crime to be gay, has reignited the desire to make football more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community.
At a recent Walthamstow Rock ’n’ Roll Book Club event, ex-footballer Pat Nevin spoke about being on the receiving end of homophobic abuse during his career, singled out for his “different” interests like attending the ballet. As it happens, Nevin is a straight man. Though he said the abuse didn’t trouble him at the time, he acknowledged the challenges and stress gay footballers experienced back then. "They couldn't confidently trust all the players, the fans on the terraces or society in general not to persecute them", he said.
It was this atmosphere that led to the creation of Stonewall FC in 1991, following an advert in a gay publication asking for like-minded people who wanted to play competitive football. Today they are an established community, based at the ex-Olympic warm-up stadium next to the West Ham ground, with a men’s first team playing at a high non-league level.
While the community in Qatar and worldwide need our support, there is no better place to start this work than at home. I was therefore keen to have the team I manage - the mens veterans squad at Coppermill Swifts, a progressive community club in Walthamstow’s Coppermill neighbourhood - take Stonewall on. The club don’t normally have a veterans squad but formed one especially for our game, which ended in a hard-fought and competitive 1-1 draw.
After the game, I caught up with Tom Edington, a long-serving member of Stonewall FC. "To be honest,” he said, “I was very apprehensive [at first], having always kept my sexuality under wraps whilst playing football. What was it going to be like being ‘out’, playing with other gay men, and what would the standard be like?"
While the team faced "some hostile and homophobic opposition” in his early years, he said: "I can honestly say I absolutely loved every battle with that type of opposition, supporting my mates and thinking hopefully this makes them think and realise that we can play football too.
"Stonewall FC is an incredible and life-changing place to connect with people and provides a safe place for each individual to be themselves. I was and am always totally and utterly proud to represent this club.”
I know I speak for all in the Coppermill Swifts community, when I say we want to play respectfully and inclusively with all our teams. Football can and should be a beautiful game for everyone.
View the highlights from our game here and find out more about Stonewall FC at www.stonewallfc.com