Proud and happy

CAST member Rebecca Sandles celebrates Charlton's Football v Homophobia day.

Last Saturday there were rainbow corner flags; Hummel’s logo was in rainbow colours on the front of the match day programme and an LGBT choir serenaded the West stand from the pitch before kick off.

It was great to see Charlton again championing equality and marking Football v Homophobia’s month of action. With thousands coming though the turnstiles, the visibility of equality messages and splashes of rainbows do make a difference.

It’s hard to put into words how I felt standing just metres away from Derek Hales, Bob Bolder and Paul Mortimer as Charlton Athletic welcomed an LGBT choir, the Pink Singers, to pitch side.

Anyone who has been to a football match in past fifty years and shuddered as some Neanderthal near them spouted hate, (racist, homophobic, religious etc etc..) couldn’t fail to have been touched by just how jolly those singers were.

I’m normally not the happy clappy sort, but they bought tears to my eyes. All I can think is that somewhere inside fifty-something me standing there last weekend was a cautious younger me, keeping her head down and hoping no-one near her started being abusive.

I recorded a little video of my reaction to the emotions that welled up inside me, taking me a bit by surprise to be honest.

Seeing and hearing those 30 LGBT choir members joyfully belting out Proud suddenly seemed to validate my place as just one of the thousands of supporters in the Valley - all of me felt accepted. It sounds silly, but there it is!

A friend commented on the video,

“ I cried watching this let alone if I was there. Well done CAFC and well done you for keeping the faith that this would one day be a possibility. Onwards and upwards football - keep up the good work.”

The rainbow colours were combined with repeated messages across the tannoy underlining Charlton’s commitment to ensuring the Valley is a safe venue for all fans regardless of sexuality, race or gender identity. That’s a welcoming message and a warning:

It’s a warning to the minority of dinosaurs who continue to think it’s appropriate to marginalise LGBT+ folk. Often these are the same ‘fans’ who seem to think that somehow football and indeed footballers, can flourish in an exclusively heterosexual white male space.

It is a welcome message for those supporters who may be struggling with their own identity and who feel targeted and uncomfortable by behaviour or language they encounter. It tells them they are not alone and they are part of the Charlton family.

Matt Southall spoke at the Proud Valiants post match reception. What impressed me was not that he did that, but that he didn’t just drop in to show his face. He stayed, he chatted. He was there to listen, not just be seen.

All that, plus three points! I went home very happy.