On Sunday I was down at my local pub watching the Liverpool game against Chelsea - the first match I’ve managed to catch since the season began. An excellent result for a suffering Reds fan, but something else troubled me about the afternoon.
Part way through the match I became aware of two kids sitting behind me. The oldest couldn’t have been more than ten, but they both were well-versed in all the usual match rituals – bravado, tribalism and noisiness.
Among the shrill cries of ‘Go on Drog!’ and ‘we’re gonna get you!”, something really threw me off-kilter…
“TORRES IS A POOF!” shortly followed by “Yeah, Torres is GAY and he has a BOYfriend!”.
Finding myself uncharacteristically speechless, I had no reaction but turn round slowly, mouth gaping, before eventually turning to face the front again. I’m ashamed to say I did nothing further.
In part it was because I was met with challenging glares and mutterings from the boys in question, but also I became acutely aware of my own situation as the only non-white person in the pub, as well as one of the few women and there alone. Even if I hadn’t felt so vulnerable myself, where would you begin to challenge such behaviour?
Do you start by explaining that ‘there’s nothing wrong with’ being gay or having any other sexual orientation? Or do you attempt to tackle the more fundamental point that it’s offensive to use terms referring to sexuality as insults? Having never openly experienced homophobic behaviour, I didn’t even know where to start.
More than anything, I think I was stunned because I must have assumed that this kind of thing just doesn’t happen any more. We are in the twenty-first century. Society has moved on from those prejudices, right?
Football is a beautiful but often peculiar game. In some ways it’s very backwards, and I don’t just mean by the neo-Luddite refusal to use video refs. I’m sure it’s something to do with the fact that to many fans it’s keystone of perceived male identity. As with many things, anything that upsets the balance is hounded out so that those doing the abusing can feel confident about themselves.
We (generally) accept that racist abuse is no longer acceptable, and this is probably partly due to significant numbers of high-profile non-white players. The logic is that it would take similarly big stars to ‘come out’ for the fan culture around football to change.
However while the behaviour I saw on Sunday is inculcated in pre-pubescent fans, it’s hardly an open and progressive environment for players to come forward.
Homophobic abuse cannot and should not be accepted, and I know what to do if there is a next time.
Read Lianne's blog at http://weleftmarks.wordpress.com.
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