Gay rights charity Stonewall are urging professional footballers up and down the country to wear rainbow-coloured laces this weekend
Football Fan Cast writer and Charlton Athletic fan Christy Malyan argues that rejecting homophobia in the modern game is an issue the Addicks should get behind. The action which has attracted media attention and plenty of comment on social media, is part of the Right Behind Gay Footballers campaign trying to address homophobia in British football
There are 29 professional clubs in England actively engaging in the Football V Homophobia campaign launched in February this year. Although not specifically supporting this campaign, CAFC are fully committed to equal opportunities:
“Charlton Athletic Football Club is committed to providing equal opportunities in employment and to avoiding unlawful discrimination in employment and against its fans. Charlton Athletic welcomes fans whatever age, disability, maternity, race, sexual orientation, religion or belief.”
With Charlton taking on Millwall in a bitter local derby at the weekend, there are few better and more fitting opportunities for the players to show their support in my view. The laces have already been sent to all 92 Premier League and Football League clubs, as well as the 42 professional outfits in Scotland, in the hope that players will voluntarily wear them for fixtures on the 21st and 22nd of September to support the cause and hopefully change opinions about homosexuality on the terraces and in the dressing room alike.
In the last twenty years, homophobia has become a bigger issue in football than it has in society. According to the latest government census in 2011, 1.1% of the British population consider themselves as homosexual. If we were apply that to the Premier League, then five of the 500 players making up each club's 25-man registered squads would be openly gay. But there are no openly gay players in the top flight, or the Championship, or any division in the Football League. Currently, only three players in the history of the game have come out as gay; Justin Fashanu, Anton Hysen, son of Liverpool's Glenn Hysen, and Robbie Rogers, who quit Leeds United before revealing his homosexuality earlier this year. It seems being a footballer is not a compatible profession if you plan on being openly gay.
Rather paradoxically, inaccuracies over the circumstances of Justin Fashanu's death in 1998 have contributed to the idea that players can't be openly gay. As Fashanu's biographer Jim Read put it, "Fashanu's experience is so often wrongly cited as a sort of warning sign against coming out". Rather, the former England U21 committed suicide four years after he'd quit playing football, and eight years after The Sun printed the infamous headline; '£1M Football Star: I am Gay'. None the less, it's created a myth that players won't be accepted if they come out, which is exactly the kind of notion RBGF is trying to confront for the better with their new laces campaign based on the notion of player solidarity.
But an even more challenging obstacle for the Gay Rights charity lies in the heart of the beautiful game. Entrenched in its working class roots and the nature of the game itself is the ideal of masculinity; power and aggression are viewed as strengths on the pitch as well as on the terraces, whilst any form of sexual deviation is seen as an immediate weakness. To challenge the masculine identity is seen as an opportunity to gain an advantage on rival supporters by the fans, just as asserting your physical prowess against an opponent is an advantage for the players on the pitch. Being gay suggests weakness and effeminacy, and thus makes you a target for those in the stands, as well as those in the dressing room - Robbie Rogers argued that the 'pack mentality' of how footballers behave pushed him to end his career before coming out, although he recently reversed his decision to retire and joined MLS outfit LA Galaxy.
But that is why Saturday's much anticipated South London derby against Millwall is the ideal venue for players to be a part of the rainbow laces campaign in support of their colleagues. Amid what is set to be a contested and aggressive, physically and mentally demanding match between two clubs with no love lost between them, professional footballers showing solidarity to homosexual members of their profession would be a powerful message of acceptance.
The campaign is not trying to instigate a wave of players coming out, but rather an attempt to begin challenging the culture of benign homosexuality in the English game, hence it's subtle approach in asking players to simply change the colouring of their laces for a single match. More than anything else, the campaign is a chance for other players to tell their team-mates, whether they are straight, gay, or wish their sexuality to remain private, that they will not be rejected because of their sexual orientation. It will also serve as a sign that football is moving forward on one of its most taboo and controversial issues, and finally coming into line with British society - it's been nearly a decade since the Civil Partnership Act was passed in 2004.
As all Charlton fans know, our club is renowned for its work in the community and devotion to worthwhile causes, which makes it the perfect candidate to lend itself to the issue of homophobia in the modern game. Participation in the GRBF campaign remains voluntary, but this is a cause the players, the fans and the club should be supporting, starting with a showing of rainbow-coloured laces when we take on Millwall at the Valley on Saturday.