Matt Hall, manager of Village Manchester FC’s 2nd team, provided an excellent compliment to John Barnes at the Beautiful Football: An Ugly Culture event, illustrating how his side looks to tackle homophobia in sport at a grassroots level.
Village Manchester FC are Manchester’s only gay men’s football club, plying their trade in the Manchester Accountants League. They are unique in the gay football community however as alongside London side Stonewall they choose to play in local football leagues rather than take part in the Gay Football Supporters Network organized league for gay teams which operates on a national level.
For Hall it is crucial that teams such as Village Manchester compete in ordinary league football, commenting that ‘Homophobia in football is better fought by playing at a grassroots level’. Village Manchester are setting out to dispel any stereotypes and myths that cross their path, aiming to ‘show teams that gay men we can play football just as well they can’. Indeed they have been exceptionally successful with the Village Manchester side now established as one of the best sides in their league, with their second team also going from strength to strength.
It appears that Village Manchester’s aim is being reached, with Hall stating that his experiences have seen very little active homophobia from opposition sides. Indeed a recent Sky Sports News report into Homophobia secretly filmed a Village match in order to try and catch Homophobic attitudes in action. ‘ They didn’t see much’ says Hall with a smile, ‘ apart from that we lost!’
The young manager did state however that not all footballers within the gay community were ready to take such a step as he and his teammates have. Indeed there are players who have felt ostracized playing football. That is where the GFSN comes in providing for gay players to play with ‘likeminded individuals’, a place where gay men to do not feel the need to hide their sexuality in fear of experiencing sexual prejudice from fellow players.
In the professional game meanwhile the situation experienced by Village Manchester is perhaps not reflected with homophobic chanting a regular occurrence on the terraces. Indeed a survey by Stonewall last year stated that 70 percent of football fans had experienced homophobic chanting. For Hall this is partly down to the ‘herd mentality of fans’ that can happen at some grounds. Such prejudice according to the young manager cannot be tackled by the Gay Football community and must be led from a top down level, it is an area that the FA has ‘seriously neglected’, leaving the Gay Community ‘playing catch up in order to end homophobia in the professional game’. The natural progression is for a high profile Premier League player to come out publicly as being gay, as the likes of Gareth Thomas and Steven Davies have in Rugby and Cricket respectively. Such a move is ‘the next step towards inclusion’.
However while the footballing authorities look to eradicate homophobia on the terraces and change long-term attitudes towards gay footballers, Village Manchester will continue to take on any prejudice that comes their way by doing their talking on the field.
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