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Thread: The United fan who came out amongst his match going mates talks about the reaction

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    Default The United fan who came out amongst his match going mates talks about the reaction

    This article first appeared in RN188.


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    Whilst we can't do anything about the actions of those down Anfield way, their recent pitiful behaviour has bought the issue of racism in football back in the spotlight and whilst we can't rest on our laurels, things are much better than they used to be and this case will hopefully go further in isolating the bigots and trying to educate those who pander to them. You'd like to think if the roles had been reversed, then we wouldn't have been so keen to offer our partisan support like the Scousers did, blindly, and whilst we don't know for sure, the limited amount of racism at United games, and standing up to those that do, gives hope that we are, and can be, different.


    But whilst racism remains a target, what about that last bastion of uncomfortable malice to some; homophobia? With players still loathe to come out, I got on the tram after the Liverpool game happy about who we were and how our fans and club had behaved through it all, and witnessed a few lads bouncing about the result, jumping around as they can do on the tram. All good fun, as one leaped on another, the others were quick to joke around: ‘Get off me you bummer’ and other such ‘banter’. I'm not blameless in this, without noticing, what I'd consider ‘soft humour’ is used amongst mates, even occasionally amongst the couple of gay lads I know. They don't wince, so it can't hurt, can it? Only words, after all. But what do words become? We still live in a society where people can be beaten up, and worse, not just for the colour of their skin, but also their sexuality. Am I part to blame with my casual references and ‘larks’? Do I not help things? Or is it ok, just part of the fun, no spite intended, but fast becoming a taboo as the law tightens up about what it deems is unacceptable behaviour even when some, or many, would think it's not.


    People being gay has never bothered me, why the hell should it, it's very aloof to suggest what I or you as an individual think would count anyway, but that doesn't mean I haven't joked around, and it got me thinking where such thoughts can lead to by those who don't live and let live. A couple of well known(ish) Reds have come out over the years, but it's not many. Should they have to? Does it matter if they do or don't? It might seem odd to be interviewing a United fan just because he's gay, but I wanted to know how he felt, what it was like at United for him. He doesn't conform to any stereotypes, indeed he went onto express his opposition to the question of gay adoption after supporting civil partnerships in our conversation, an argument for another venue in another time, but when United related, it did get me thinking that there's one last subject that football doesn't really want to deal with, and if it does, it does so with a smirk, or a raised eyebrow. In this day and age, isn't it time to accept these changed times? The very fact that I expect people to be unhappy about this article appearing, suggests that it's a subject that people still struggle to deal with.


    I asked him whether he felt there was a need to come out. He'd done it on a drunken minibus journey coming back from an away game, many of us had suspected for a while anyway. We didn't care, why should we? “I came out at football for a couple of reasons. Basically a couple of weeks beforehand I was out one Saturday night and two lads we travelled with happened to be passing and spotted me outside a gay bar. At that stage a few people at football already knew. The RN founder Teresa had and was very supportive in my formative years which I'll never forget. I think it was something I was always going to do, and it was just the opportunity where there hadn't been one before. It was the last group of friends I wanted to tell.” I can remember that moment he did, it was like ‘oh, right’ and we all just really carried on as normal, drank a bit, and asked questions, some soft and some fascinated at what it was all about. Had he always wanted to tell? “I think I always knew I would, though I don't think I always wanted to, because my lifestyle and going out…” Should his sexuality matter at football? “No, it shouldn't matter, the most amazing thing is that, touch wood, apart from the very odd person, it hasn't mattered.”


    When I found out, I'd actually been against him telling more people so all those who were in our wider circle would know, because I feared he may come a cropper. “I appreciated that, but at the time I thought I was a big enough and loud enough character to deal with it. I'm not the type of person who is going to be over sensitive about it. And I thought ‘you know what, I will deal with it up front, if anyone says anything I will deal with it”. And have you ever been abused at United? “Never. Not once have I ever been abused. I think I'm lucky in some ways. At the time I was organising the travel and tickets for a branch, and there were people on the trips who were perhaps not always the best behaved, but they were being helped with travel and tickets so they saw me as someone who they need, if you like. I remember being at Spurs away one year in a pub and a few of the lads at United were basically quizzing me and debating in a totally friendly way about it all, fascinated, they genuinely wanted to know from me what occurred! Some of these people who I've seen behave, er ‘rather interestingly’ to opposition fans, sitting there asking all these questions.”
    But then he is also going to hear them, or others, at a game or in the pub, say general words or phrases in conversation, however intentionally or not, stuff like ‘bent-arse’, ‘peanut head’ or whatever, so do you take that as an offence…? “I don't take it as an offence personally”. But there would be others who did? “Of course there would. And I'm in a unique situation where not only have I got the whole terrace mentality by coming to watch United for many years but also playing (he plays for the gay football team Stonewall FC) at a decent level, nearly semi-pro, grass-roots level for a gay football team in a straight league, so I've got both sides of that equation and we get it sometimes. Where the opposition occasionally come out with some comments, not as much now as they did a few years ago, it's the same with United. There's a couple of people who have never said anything to me, I'm aware that they are really uncomfortable around me. Not friends, but people I know by sight. Whereas most of the people that I hang around with, frankly can take the mickey as much as possible, and we all take the mickey out of each other.”


    But say the words I use, is there a problem by perpetuating these comments, that there will be one person who will be a loose cannon and simmer away or is everyone too PC mad these days and worried about everything we say? “I think everyone is too PC gone mad generally, having said that, the fact of the matter is homophobia is not treated the same way as racism, the FA and everyone else can continue to pay lip service to kicking homophobia out of football, but frankly when you watch tv or when you watch your soap operas, when you watch your chat shows and whatever else, it is still deemed acceptable to make jokes about gay people and it's funny and we all laugh, whether it's Michael McIntyre or Graham Norton, but you can't say anything racist so it's a problem that people take it to a degree that makes it a problem. It's easy for me who is someone who was bought up in a male orientated football going crowd but someone else who is more sensitive is going to find it very difficult to then deal with.”


    “I know players in my team who have gone a step above Stonewall, to semi-professional, and gone into a dressing room and do not feel comfortable coming out to their team-mates.” Then isn't the problem that there hasn't been a high profile player come out? “Yeah, huge problem. And I don't think when you have got people like Max Clifford and the like who are trying to stop any opportunity of a player coming out, the reasons they give I don't agree with, that it will kill their career, lose sponsorship, I don't buy that. I think that like everything that happens in football, people will support that player if he's in their team. If a United player comes out, the United fans would get behind him, so to speak, and the opposition take an opportunity to take the mickey as they do with any player who is deemed fair game like today with what we've seen with Suarez and Evra. I don't think you would get a situation now where a gay player would be booed, I think you might have songs sung that fans deemed to be witty. But the problem is, because it's seen to be alright on telly and in society to take the mickey out of gay people, and because gay people have fun at their own expense, then it's seen as less of a problem.”


    I put it to him that some would say, you've got your own football team, you've never been abused at United, so isn't it being a bit prissy that you want the rights, but in fact you've already got the rights now, and you are just deeming words offensive which is all they are, just words. Say a gay player comes out and they start singing songs at him and people are arrested, then it could be argued that you can't sing anything at football anymore. Or am I just not getting it? “You see I don't think that any words about what someone does sexually is an arrestable offence, I don't think it's serious enough, but I say this as me, a United fan rather than as my position playing for Stonewall, but I don't see homophobia as a big problem as racism. That is a personal opinion which I can't share in my capacity at Stonewall. To me as long as something is within a limit, and by limit I mean not personal and not violent, within a limit, it's fair game. The day when men or women can't go to football and take the piss out of each other and have a laugh, so long as it doesn't deal with the colour of their skin, their nationality or any kind of family or violence, then the game is lost. But to most of us the game is lost as it was growing up anyway. Now if I play or watch football and someone says something homophobic to me, I say something homophobic back at them.” Like what? “If someone is giving me some stick playing, say ‘get up you fucking fairy’ or blah, blah, blah, I'll just turn around and say ‘well your brother didn't mind last night when I was banging him!’ There are a hell of a lot of people who would argue that it should be seen the same way as racism”. Are you the exception to the rule or do most of your team feel the same? “Most of the players in my team are fairly thick skinned, but one can't happen without the other, until you get the tv, media and society, until it stops from there. Racism only stopped when society deemed it…” But it hasn't stopped has it? “We've got the isolated incidents but on mass, the on mass booing of black players.” But it hasn't really educated some people, it still simmers to some, they just are not stupid enough to want to get caught. “Absolutely, and you and I know you have still been to enough United games to know you still get the odd person and their stupidity, that shouts out ‘you black this’ and it's disgusting.”


    So why then in 2012, as far as I know, have only two well known United fans come out in the last 10-15 years, why so few? “Who is the other one! I'm joking, I don't know him. That's a good question, and I think it goes down to the character and the individual. You and I both know someone who went on a euro away with us that sadly passed away many years ago that we later found out was gay, none of us ever knew at the time, so why? And you look at that person and I can only go on that person, as a character he wasn't the in your face type of person as I am. As someone who has known me since I was 16, you're advice was ‘don't do it because you worried about the consequences.” So what did you think would happen when you did? “I thought I'd have a bit of a hard time with some of the more unruly element who go to football. As I said, I actually came out on mass by accident but when word spread I have to admit the next few trips I was a little bit uncomfortable as to what the reaction might be but maybe I'm just lucky, maybe it was said behind my back or maybe people realised they could have a laugh with me and once they realised that most of these people who know me have seen me on euro aways, they've seen me on the train drinking vodka, they've seen me shouting and swearing at games and not wearing make-up, not being the stereotypical camp gay guy. And I think the perception is ‘hang on a minute, he's a bloke just like me’, whereas if I'd been more of an effeminate nature then maybe it would have made that person feel more uncomfortable whereas that never quite happened with me, they may think ‘hang on, I was in Amsterdam with him, he was in that brothel bar or I was in Dortmund with him pissed up, he's alright”.


    But say you'd come out in the 70s or 80s, it would have been a totally different reaction, so there has been movement. “Of course there has, in the 70s and 80s how many women came to football? How many black people were at football so of course there has been a movement. I find it very easy to distinguish between a homophobic comment and someone being homophobic, completely different, absolutely. There is always going to be a loose cannon in any society, whether it's racism or homophobia, anti-Government, anarchy, whatever, you can't tarnish everyone and worry about everyone. If we're having a drink before a game and we're having a laugh and you say something, doesn't mean you're being homophobic and I'll take the piss back.”


    Not everyone would feel the same, and that's not to say I'm also perhaps viewing the conversation and questions from a stereotypical light on my part. I ask him whether he will see a player in a different light to me, good old heterosexual me, a loaded question of course, “you'll find Beckham attractive or Giggs won't you?” He laughs, “I could give you my top 5 if you want to go down that route mate, I can play that card as much as anybody else! Out of interest it would be Sharpe, Cleverley, Beckham, Ronaldo and Chicharito. That's the only bit of gayness that you are going to get out of me this interview!” Still 1 in 10? “I don't think it is 1 in 10, I don't think it gets proved one way or the other, but it's different cultures and societies, it could be 1 in 10 but it might not be who go to football. It's more than 1 in 10 when you are talking about going to the theatre, it's more than 1 in 10 when you are talking about acting.”


    Would you have done anything differently at United? “Yes, I would have, do you know what, I would have come out earlier, I really would have. I'll tell you why, I came out in 1999 and as we all get older we do less euro aways and stuff like that, one of the best times I had at United was in Majorca in '99 the week we went to Barcelona for the Final from there, the difference between that trip and Dortmund and the other trips we did, I was myself in Majorca. That didn't mean I went off and did anything, because I didn't, but we were all together on the piss the whole time and I was myself, I didn't have any kind of worry, and that is the big difference, I would have done it a couple of years earlier.”


    That Majorca trip before and after the final was brilliant. About 20 of us, many who have now sacked matches for the same reasons many others have, had the time of our lives, one last real get together of the old group who used to go together in the 80s and 90s. We now knew he was gay, but it didn't bother us at all. Why should it? He was never going to try it on - why should he, the state of us! - and wasn't any different to any of us really. It was us who would have had the problem dealing with it. But none of us did. A good group of mates who know we all have our different lives, and United the thing that combines us so fuck it, live and let live, we have enough to worry about in our own lives to worry about others.


    Maybe others would not have been so forthcoming, or maybe I'm giving us all a pat on the back which sounds a bit patronising or condescending to him, or the subject. It shouldn't matter, but it does to some. Not everyone will feel like he does about the jokes we make too. Everyone is different after all, not that that should matter, but it does, to some. Who knows how it will all pan out, if a player will come out, and how he'll be treated. Maybe I should think about the words I use as jokes, and if so, I still hope we don't suppress things so much that there is nothing allowed anymore, but clearly, some of the things I/we say could be seen as offensive. And I should think before I say stuff. But I am glad that he was allowed to come out and he was treated as normal. Because that's how United fans should behave. Leave the bigots to that lot, and let Old Trafford be the cosmopolitan mix of decent lads, whatever creed, colour and lives, we've always praised it to be. We're all different, sharing one team, and we should be proud of that fact.


    copyright Red News 2012.


    This article first appeared in RN188.


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    As an NBA player comes out, John Amaechi explains why football players are not


    from AP


    The advice John Amaechi gave to Jason Collins before the NBA veteran came out is very different to what he tells the gay soccer players he knows in the English Premier League.


    "The NBA is light years ahead of football," Amaechi said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "There is no doubt about that."


    Amaechi became the first openly gay former NBA player in 2007, three years after retiring. In the month before his public announcement on Monday, Collins spoke to him about his decision.


    "I told him there isn't anything negative about it," Amaechi said. "Being out is better than being in — unreservedly."


    In American sports maybe. But not in soccer — particularly in England, according to Amaechi. Being an Englishman and one of the country's leading equality campaigners, he is qualified to offer his opinion.


    "If it wanted to be a better, more progressive organization that supported diversity, not because it looks pretty when you put it on the back of your annual report ... it could be," Amaechi said. "It has the resources. It doesn't want to get rid of the dinosaur, so the dinosaurs continue to roar through the hallways of football, making sure that everyone knows how you have to behave.


    "Let's face it. You are better off being the kind of football player who bites like a 5-year-old than a gay player in football. One would get you less ridicule from the powers that be. It's shocking to me."


    Amaechi's comments allude to Liverpool forward Luis Suarez's bite a week ago, and they carry weight. He is the figurehead many gay soccer players in England are turning to for advice — in private, afraid to become front-page news.


    Justin Fashanu was the first leading British player to come out publicly, acknowledging he was gay in 1990. The former Nottingham Forest and Norwich City forward's life ended in 1998 at age 37 when he was found hanged in a London garage.


    The next notable player to come out was Robbie Rogers, a former member of the U.S. national team who had been playing for Leeds. Aged only 25, he felt he had to retire at the same time he made his announcement in February.


    Asked if any privately gay players had contacted him like Collins, Amaechi replied: "Yes, a few."


    "There are plenty of them who are already out, who have come out to some of their teammates," he added. "But they just don't want (to in public). They don't have any faith in football to do its job, to do its duty."


    Fans of the second-tier English club Brighton recently published a dossier highlighting the constant homophobic abuse they face at matches. The southern city is known for its gay and lesbian community.


    Faced with hostile crowds and the macho world of locker rooms, players are reluctant to come out. Amaechi said the gay players he knows can be more open at home.


    "They are out in the way that most people are out, in that people they love and that people who care about them know that they are gay," Amaechi said. "But random strangers don't know that they are gay. It is quite a huge expectation that you put on people, you expect them essentially to wear a T-shirt that says 'By the way I'm gay' every day.


    "There is something I can tell you from experience quite weird about it."


    In response to Amaechi's criticism, the English Football Association defended its vigor in tackling homophobia, pointing to its "Opening Doors and Joining In" campaign that marked its first anniversary earlier this month with an event at the House of Commons.


    "Opening Doors has received positive feedback inside Westminster and from the likes of Stonewall FC, the country's first ever gay football club, while both Graeme Le Saux and West Ham's Matt Jarvis have lent their support to The FA's work in this area," FA spokesman Scott Field said.


    Le Saux is a former English national team defender who faced abuse during his career over baseless claims about his sexuality.


    Jarvis, who is heterosexual and married, posed topless on the cover of a gay magazine recently in a bid show support for the gay community.


    Amaechi stresses the need to move away from preconceptions.


    "In Britain is the idea that real men — straight men — don't read books, must whistle at women and objectify them and all kinds of crazy stuff that is not particularly helpful," he said.


    He offers a note of caution about the prospect of current players emulating Collins' public announcement.


    "With football, they've got so far to go," he said. "That's almost a bridge too far."
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