Football is the global game. The world’s most popular sport has shown time and time again that despite its tribalistic fan tendencies, it has the power to unite all who follow it and beyond. The friendly between England and France in the wake of the Paris attacks is perhaps the most poignant example of such a time, where all fans in attendance at Wembley joined in for Le Marseillaise. A true show of union between historic rivals.
But there’s still something wrong.
Because for all the union and galvanisation that football achieves, it can also be equally divisive. Fans too often stray from their whimsical, humorous or ironic chants into the realms of the unpleasant. They can snipe and sneer and belittle and, above all, they can abuse. This is where the problem lies: with those who convert their devotion to a particular team into a whole-hearted condemnation of another way of life.
People will say it’s only a select few and rightly so. But that’s all it takes. One song, one chant, one comment and the herd mentality can kick in. And for fans of Brighton and Hove Albion, the rival songs, chants and comments are commonly associated with one word and one word only: homophobia.
It’s 2016 and we are yet to see a homosexual footballer playing in the top flight of the men’s English game. I feel confident that if football wasn’t as big as it was was or at least if they weren’t subjected to tens of thousands of expectant fans every few days, then that wouldn’t be the case. But it is and they are, so it’s something we have to deal with.
Nowhere is the abuse more palpable than at Brighton and Hove Albion’s Amex Stadium. In 2012/13 alone, the Brighton and Hove Albion Supporters Club (BHASC) and the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) reported over 40 incidents across the season – that’s 72 percent of all opponents. Furthermore, around half of those took place in Brighton’s stadium itself. Fast forward to the 18th of May this year and the BHASC released a statement documenting vile homophobic abuse after their play-off game against Sheffield Wednesday. So why has nothing changed in the last three years?
And this absolutely isn’t to say that homophobia doesn’t happen to other clubs or that it only happens in Brighton because homophobia is being tackled nationwide. The real gripe is that this isn’t brainless shouting into the abyss – Brighton is being targeted for a reason.
Brighton’s reputation as a city precedes it. Fans appear to associate being gay exclusively with Brighton and their tribal mentality kicks in. They come to a city which prides itself on being welcoming to all, no matter their race, creed, sexuality or gender, and they watch a sport which itself has consistently proven to be a catalyst for unity and they use the sexual orientation of a large and important community as a stick to beat others with. That’s not ‘friendly banter’ between rival fans, that’s active and deliberate discrimination. It’s prehistoric in its scope and has no place in something as ultimately trivial as a sport.
Frustratingly, it’s Brighton and Hove Albion who consistently lead the charge against homophobia with grassroots workshops. For the past two seasons, the club have actively endorsed the Football vs Homophobia campaign and organised events to reflect this. But they clearly aren’t the ones who need it. The club reflects the city’s acceptance and will to make the world safe and pleasant for all while it’s outsiders who come and disrupt that. The Premier League promoted the anti-homophobia ‘rainbow laces’ campaign but the Football League have yet to make any such stand despite possessing the one club who suffer above all.
It’s maddening how backwards football fans can be given what they’re capable of it they pull together. The bottom line is that Brighton is targeted above all others and the singling-out of a specific group is against everything which football should be about.
I always thought football was for everyone. Turns out that right now it isn’t – and that’s really sad.