City fandom, Pride Sports & Football v Homophobia

Neither a Manchester native nor raised as a fan, Lou Englefield’s initial love for City came when the Club were minutes away from what would have been a very significant defeat.

“A friend of mine was born blue and was from a great blues family in Salford, she was city through and through,” he beams.

“I wasn’t particularly involved in football at the time, but she was going to games and then she got to the 1999 play-off final against Gillingham. My partner went to Wembley, she was so excited and it was so contagious.

“I remember listening to the match on the radio. I was hooked and completely fell in love!”

The drama of that famous play-off final, in which Paul Dickov’s late equalizer and Nicky Weaver’s penalty shootout heroics saw Joe Royle’s team return to the second tier at the first moment of asking, was all it took for Englefield to catch the bug.

Rain or shine, she would make the two-hour drive from Nottingham to Maine Road with her friend who has season tickets whenever the opportunity arose but, by the time she moved to Manchester, the Club had moved into their new surroundings at the Etihad Stadium. .

The chance to get his own season ticket as City began a new chapter in our history was too tempting to ignore.

And that first foray into City’s new environment remains his favorite moment as a fan: “We played Barcelona (in a pre-season friendly) and if I remember correctly, they brought out a team to give us a little chance to start. .

“But then they made some substitutions, prompting a fan close to me to yell ‘don’t panic!’

“Everyone collapsed with laughter, it was essentially what it is to be a City fan: that self-deprecating irony. I love it, it’s so much fun.”

Although Englefield’s time following his beloved City across the country remains one of the best years of his life, instances of homophobia across the UK, while less frequent, remain an unfortunate stain on our footballing landscape.

Being a party fan and member of the LGBTIQ+ community still has the potential to be an intimidating experience, and Lou has been at the forefront of trying to change that for nearly two decades.

In 2005, he helped create the Northwest’s first LGBTIQ+ multi-sport tournament, drawing thousands of people from around the world who identified as part of the community.

The success of that event would go on to establish Pride Sports, a non-profit organization working around LGBTIQ+ inclusion in sports and fitness, 12 months later.

Englefield remains principal to this day, but those early years were not without their challenges.

“Within a couple of years it became clear that more advocacy for LGBTIQ+ people in sport and physical activity was needed,” he reflected.

“We had some pretty negative experiences in those first few days, even trying to reserve spots. One place told us that it would not be appropriate for us to go and take a group of gay people to a place because there were children there that weekend.

“It was before the equality law, so there was very little awareness or legislation out there. I look back and it’s a great journey we’ve been on.”

SPORTS PRIDE

For the next 16 years, Pride Sports has consistently championed the inclusion of all in sport, from a team of volunteers helping to facilitate events or supporting grassroots teams to working with governing bodies on LGBTIQ+ policy.

The British Athletes Commission, the representative body for Olympic and Paralympic athletes, is just one of the main organizations that have benefited from their expertise while, from a football perspective, they have also collaborated with the PFA, the FA, the Football League and the Premier League.

“There are over 250 LGBTIQ+ community sports groups in the UK (and) we try to support them,” explains Englefield.

“But as part of our work we also carry out the Football vs Homophobia (FvH) campaign. We didn’t originally create it, but we took over the campaign in 2012.

“My job is anything from working at a policy level with national and international sports governing bodies to putting out products for the people.

“We work hard to respond to the policy, support its development and do everything we can to make sure the sport is aware of LGBTIQ+ issues.

“In the past, he might have been offering advice on exiting athletes or commissioning research for organizations.

“With football, it could be anything from helping players engage in trans inclusion or supporting matchday delegates to create a more inclusive environment.

“We’re a really small team, a lot of us are volunteers, so you basically have to stick around and do everything in Pride Sports and FvH as well.”

Striving to make sport and, more specifically, football, a more inclusive and understanding environment requires a willingness to learn and adapt from the clubs themselves, from the grassroots or even the giants of the English game.

Fortunately, in Englefield’s experience, that has been the case with a number of teams across the UK, including Manchester City.

His first affiliation with the Club in a professional capacity came more than ten years ago when Alex Williams, then Director of Community Affairs and now an ambassador for City in the Community, gave training sessions for a football project aimed at empowering LGBTIQ+ youth. in Greater Manchester.

An active member of the city’s official LGBTIQ+ fan club, Canal Street Blues, when they initially formed a few years later in 2014, Lou described his involvement with the group as a means of reconnecting with the club as a fan when commitments were made. of coach are limited. their chances of attending games.

However, he also credits City’s support of the LGBTIQ+ community as another key reason for that revival.

“From my perspective, it seems there has been a long history of support for Manchester’s LGBTIQ+ communities by the Club and the foundation,” he explained.

“For example, I have been to the City Football Academy a couple of times in the last decade and had training sessions with academics from the academy.

“For years we absolutely cared about the fact that City were one of the first clubs to get involved in the FvH campaign, and they have done a lot of things like that and designated games for FvH over the years.

“More recently, they’ve also gotten involved in Rainbow Laces, actively supported Canal Street Blues, got involved in Pride and sponsored Manchester Pride.

“(But) that’s not just because Pride is there, it feels like it’s part of a history of continued work and continued commitment from the Club.

“During the lockdown, for example, everything was behind closed doors, but you could see the Canal Street Blues logo in the middle of the Etihad while watching the games on TV. We couldn’t have imagined that kind of visibility back then (when we started).

“It also appears that the Club has made a commitment to its Manchester base and community. There is a real and authentic desire to engage local communities.”

While great strides have been made in recent years, there is still a lot of ongoing work and education that needs to be done across the football landscape.

The drive for greater awareness, visibility, and support is everyone’s responsibility, not just those who identify as part of the community, and Lou wants to emphasize this message.

Furthermore, challenging cases of homophobia remain another crucial element of LGBTIQ+ support from an alliance perspective.

She explains: “LGBTIQ+ people tend to be an invisible minority. Shows of support or appreciation for FvH, Rainbow Laces, Football vs. Transphobia, Pride Month or other key moments are essential.

“It is really important that LGBTIQ+ people know that you are an ally and one of the best ways to express that is through one of these dates, either by posting on your social networks or inspiring more conversations by speaking about some of these topics. . at your workplace.

“(But) that also needs to be backed up with action. One of the most important things allies can do is challenge homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia when they come across them.

“If you hear someone make an anti-gay joke, for example, challenge them.

“LGBTIQ+ people understand that homophobia happens, it is something that is part of our lives that we deal with, but hearing people speak out against it can be one of the most powerful things.”

The Pride Sports website contains more information on his key work and that of Football v Homophobia.

Educational resources on LGBTIQ+ inclusion in sport are also available to access, as well as more information on the workshops that Pride Sports runs from KS2 to university level.

To visit the website, learn more about his work, or get involved, click here.

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