Thousands of people took to the streets of London today to celebrate Pride in London 2015, the biggest one-day gathering and celebration of the capital’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. ‘Pride Heroes’ has been chosen as a theme of this year’s event. One South London-born sportsman regarded as a hero by many football fans within the gay community is Aslie Pitter MBE, one of the founding members of Stonewall Football Club.
It’s been 24 years since Britain’s first openly gay men’s football team was established. Since then Stonewall FC has been as hailed as a trailblazing side and enjoyed success as winners of the 2014 Gay Games World Cup. Brixton Blog met Aslie Pitter earlier on this year when his club took on Dulwich Hamlet. The Ryman Premier team became the first non-league side to back Rainbow Laces, a high profile campaign against homophobia in football. Here Pitter (pictured below to the right) shares his reflections on Stonewall FC’s early days and the battle against bigotry in football.
“We were a group of gay and bisexual blokes who decided we wanted to play football so we decided to get together, have a kick-about and play in the park. We have been going for about 25 years now and I was one of the founder members. Because we were the only gay club in the country at the time we could only join a straight league.
“Things have improved a great deal since those early days. Years ago we’d play against teams and experience physical attacks on the pitch from elbows to two-footed challenges. It was commonplace and it was accepted. Being black, gay and a footballer was a combination in itself. I would get a lot abuse on the pitch.
“I remember we once came up against a team where half the players were black and the other half white. The abuse we got was bad. Some of the players were even coming to the dressing room door, kicking the door in and chanting lyrics from Buju Banton’s ‘Boom bye-bye’ track. They were chanting that into our dressing room!
“On the pitch it was non-stop and that made me think, is this what I want to do for fun? Getting out of my bed on a cold Sunday morning, putting my kit on and getting that kind of abuse. I used to question why I was doing this. Luckily I saw sense and thought I have got to continue because, if I didn’t, then nothing would change.
“Gay men playing football was unheard of. You would get all these stereotypes and misconceptions. People thinking gay men don’t play football. They did swimming, dancing, badminton and that sort of thing. The thought of gay men playing football just blew people’s minds. They couldn’t actually comprehend these supposedly effeminate blokes playing the game. I’m happy to say things have changed. It hasn’t changed as much as I’d like it to, but it has changed a great deal.
“We have had high-profile anti-homophobia campaigns such as Rainbow Laces which have helped to make a difference. The FA have being doing quite a lot with their ‘Opening Doors and Joining In’ campaign. Arsenal, Man City and all the big clubs are leading the way, lending their support and getting involved, so we are going in the right direction. However, it doesn’t mean that we can ease off on this. I think that would be a big mistake.
“If you look at the professional football game here, there is not one current Premier League player who has actually come out as gay before retirement. I think until a player in the United Kingdom comes out as being gay at the beginning of their career, we can’t really gauge how far we have progressed.
“We can’t sit back and think we have solved the problem with homophobia and racism because racism will always be there, and homophobia will always be too. To sit back and think we don’t need to do anymore, that’s when it creeps back in. There has been progress with events like our game against Dulwich Hamlet. Twenty years ago, even 10 years ago this wouldn’t have happened.
“I’d like us to keep going until being gay on the football pitch or in any sport doesn’t matter. You’re there because you’re a sportsman or sportswoman, whether you are playing football, badminton or rugby, you’re there because you are sportsperson not because you’re gay.”
For more information about Stonewall FC visit www.stonewallfc.com