This season Surrey FA are once again supporting Football v Homophobia’s Month of Action. Throughout February several of our clubs are holding dedicated fixtures, with players warming up in Football v Homophobia t-shirts as well as promoting the cause on social media and in their matchday programmes.
As part of our own activities during the Month of Action, we spoke to Tracy Brown, the co-chair of Chelsea Pride supporters’ group. The group follow one of Surrey’s most successful clubs, Chelsea Women, as well as their men and youth teams.
We asked Tracy about the importance of LGBT+ supporters’ groups, the work Chelsea are doing to tackle inequality and discrimination as well as her views on the issues of homophobia and discrimination which remain present in the sport.
Tell us about your role and how the Chelsea Pride supporters group came into existence?
“I am the co-Chair of Chelsea Pride. The official LGBT+ supporter’s group for Chelsea FC. I contacted Chelsea several years ago to try to start a group up, Ed Connell had already enquired, and we together really started putting the foundations of Chelsea Pride together. We have a large and growing fan base for Chelsea who are part of the LGBTQ community. Some of them didn’t feel it was safe to go to games, which currently is ridiculous in 2020. They felt it would be better going with a group and meeting up with people who were likeminded, who not only have a history and background in that community, but [for whom] love of sport and of football, our Chelsea. I first started my journey helping set up a LGBTQ supporter’s group at Portsmouth FC, Fratton Fever to running the group at Chelsea.”
Why is it so important for there to be groups like yours?
“By creating a group you’re raising awareness of inequality and diversity and working with your own club in developing that. When you look at any supporters’ group in general, it’s about togetherness and the feeling of safety, and you’re all there for the same reason to support their club and raise awareness for Equality Diversity and inclusion. Our group is for more than just our LGBTQ fans, but their friends and family and that shared want for equality.
It’s about that family feeling, and it’s a great way of sharing your passion. Ultimately, it’s about one thing really. We’re all there to see our team win.”
What progress, if any, has been made in inclusion and equality in football?
“I do think we’ve made strides. From Chelsea’s point of view alone, we have done a phenomenal amount of work. Over the last couple of years, we’ve done London Pride for example. Last year we had people who work at the club come with us, so [at that point] it wasn’t just about the supporters but the whole club, the whole Chelsea family.
We’ve done a lot of work with Stonewall when it comes to the rainbow laces campaign. 2019 saw us turn the centre circle in Chelsea's logo rainbow coloured at both the men's and women's rainbow laces game, we had big flags with the Chelsea badge in Pride colours. These being flown by our mascots Stamford and Bridget. The club are extremely supportive.
In the wider picture Football v Homophobia, kick it Out and Pride in Football – all these groups are doing one thing. They want to see equality in all ways, shapes and forms improved in this country; be it age, disability, gender, race, religious beliefs sexual orientation. We’re all trying to push for the same thing – equality, diversity and inclusion”.
Do you think discrimination/homophobia is on the rise and, if so, what can football, and the wider community do to combat it?
“There’s a growing trend politically which has resulted in a change in [increased] racism, homophobic chants in football. I think we were making huge strides but I think in the last year or so we’ve gone backwards. With homophobia it is at least improving in parts.”
How important is education in addressing discrimination including homophobia?
“Education is key on every single level. I think when you look at figures from groups like Kick it Out and it shows things on the rise, we do have to take in to account that more people now are willing to report issues. I think that [change in attitude] makes a difference too. For me, I would not just campaign for the LGBT community but for all.
I also think education needs to happen at all levels. You’ll have more influence from the grassroots going up. There’s just so much money in the Premier League but I do think you need to have the same education system through all the leagues.
"It’s about raising awareness in the whole of the game.”
How far away are we from having the first male footballer currently playing in the elite game coming out?
“There’s bound to be several gay football players out there. Their agents might say, “You don’t want to be the first player to come out”. I think agents block a lot of this more than anyone as it comes down to money at the end of the day.
With education, in the future you’re likely to have players say, “no, this is who I am”. But I think it needs to come from grassroots. When you look at The FA and the County FAs – it all starts from the ground upwards. It starts with educating the youth who play football – so as we go through the years, their mindset is changed. I think that would also help players come out.”
Why do you think it hasn’t happened already?
“We’re still in an environment right now where I personally understand why as a footballer you wouldn’t want to come out. When I hear the abuse that can be sung and said from the stands around the country it would leave you to feel insecure in coming out.
For example, if in a game you make a bad pass, suddenly, you’re called everything under the sun because you passed the ball badly. A lot of abuse can then be very homophobic in nature.
I know for a fact we will have gay players in teams – mostly known by their own teammates and management, but of course they’re going to protect their own. It isn’t just the person who is going to be affected but the team. You only have to look at Brighton and the abuse their crowds get just because it’s Brighton!”
If there was one thing you do change about football, which could have the biggest positive impact on your work, what would it be?
“I think the one thing which needs to be changed are the fans. You only need to look at other sports; there’s out rugby players, out gay referees – and the support they get is huge.
You need to be able to change the mindset of the fans. And that’s not just through charities running a campaign for two or three weeks, a year. This needs to be all the time; you can’t just do set campaigns for two weeks and then it’s forgotten for a year. This needs to be something we promote every single day. Equality across the whole game.
Discrimination in all forms needs to be eradicated. Change the fans and if the fans don’t change then the fans shouldn’t have the privilege to see the sport that they love. I think we must hit it harder than we do. [If there’s abuse] then the next time a team plays their ticket allocation should be reduced. Sanctions like this need to happen for people to understand that things must change.
It comes down to education and setting the right standards for all clubs. Not just the Premier League but right down to the National League and beyond. There have to be the same rules throughout and the same punishments throughout.”
What’s been your proudest moment working in this area?
“I think my own club (Chelsea) being more visible in the equality work which they do. The Rainbow Laces campaign, doing Pride with us. They sell badges and keyrings now in the megastore which are in rainbow colours!
I am so proud of all the effort’s my club does to across the Chelsea family, all the equality work they do across the board. It’s great to see the work the club has done and I’m proud to be of that. Chelsea women’s supporters’ group are also incredible in supporting us and the women’s team. They are true fans who follow our CFCW with pride.”
To find out more about the work of Chelsea Pride or to join the group, visit twitter; Chelseapride_ instagram; Chelseapride_ or their website. Football v Homophobia’s Month of Action runs from 1st-29th February 2020. Visit their website to learn more about the charity and how you can support their work.