British football has long ago shed relics of its past like chain smoking coaches, UFC-style tackles and way too short shorts. But there’s still one thing holding the game back from truly entering the modern age: homophobia.
Across the UK and Europe, its still common to hear homophobic chants and abuse being shouted during matches. And online, the hateful rhetoric only gets worse. That leads many in the UK to speculate that this is one of the main reasons England’s Premier League, like most of the world’s top football leagues, still has yet to see an openly gay or bisexual footballer in its ranks.
Irish betting giant Paddy Power, who have a history of fighting homophobia in the sport, want to change that. And they think the best way to show the haters that they can’t keep LGBTQ players out of the game, is by showing that they’re already out in it.
That’s why this weekend they walked in the UK’s largest pride parade, Brighton and Hove Pride, with Proud United, a symbolic team made up of LGBTQ footballers from across the country, and something the likes of which the parade has never seen in its 46 year history: The Game Changer, a 22 X 42 ft balloon, (roughly the size of a double decker bus and taller than two story house) that represents all LGBTQ footballers, our or not, that are changing the game every time they step onto the pitch. A symbol which, like these players, can’t be overlooked.
Walking with them in the parade was legendary player, manager and pundit Graeme Souness, who as an ally to LGBTQ footballers, wants to help raise their profile in the hopes of creating a more tolerant atmosphere.
Speaking at the event he said: “Society has made such giant strides generally in terms of LGBTQ, that as football people we’ve got to ask why does the issue of homophobia persist within our community and the professional game and challenge that. I’m here today as an ally and to bring attention to members of the LGBTQ community in the amateur game who are leading the charge in that conversation.”
European Cup hero Souness is no stranger to championing diversity in football, as manager of Scottish football club the Rangers, he signed the first black player to play for the team (Mark Walters, 1987) and the first Catholic (Mo Johnston) to the club exactly 20 years ago almost to the day, a brave move at a time when sectarian tensions were still high.
A spokesperson for Paddy Power stated that: “We love the game of football, so we wanted to inject a little bit more love in the game. We know that deep down, people’s hearts are in the right place, but sometimes it just takes a little nudge to help them realise that tolerance and openness is the right path for a sport that’s all about respect. We hope campaigns like this ultimately achieve that and keep the beautiful game beautiful.”
The campaign, created by creative agency Officer & Gentleman, included print ads in major UK newspapers and billboards in the city of Brighton, aimed at pointing out the absurdity of homophobia in the country’s most popular sport at a time when LGBTQ issues have made great strides elsewhere in British society.
The activation marks the continuation of Paddy Power’s “Come Out and Play” campaign to fight homophobia in football after 2018’s Cannes award winning “Official Bus for Gay Profession Footballers” which called attention to the lack of gay and bisexual players in the Premier League.
Source: Officer & Gentleman