Goal has been reaching out exclusively to fan groups representing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender fans, and we’re starting at Manchester City …
David Alvardo, chairman of Manchester City’s official LGBT + fan group, Canal Street Blues, remembers when it really struck him how disconnected the gay community was from football.
“Football and the LGBT community have never been so mixed,” he says Goal in an exclusive interview, “but we’re just trying to show people that you can be LGBT and a football fan.
“Even some of my close friends who are now members, one of them, when we came to Canal Street one night for a drink, said, ‘Are you football fans? “.
“He’s whipping up his top and he’s got a City top underneath.” He didn’t think you could do that sort of thing in the village.
Canal Street Blues was one of the first LGBT + fan clubs associated with a Premier League team after it was formed in 2014, with Alvardo as president since 2019.
Meanwhile, City embarked on the most successful period in its history and shared a bit with Canal Street Blues, who brought the four trophies City won in 2018-19 to their home at Bar Pop for expose them – a sign of the organization’s link with citizens.
While there is some disjunction between LGBT + and City supporters, with the owners of the club being the royal family of a country – the United Arab Emirates – where homosexuality is illegal, at the local level Alvardo cannot help but praise the outreach work done by the club, even if they need their hand to move in the right direction.
“They always want to help, but they don’t always know how to do it,” he says. “It’s something that’s reflected in all Premier League clubs, talking to other fan groups, the clubs want to do the right thing, and that’s where we come in.
“City has appointed an equality and inclusion manager, he is our direct contact. We look forward to working with him because people who often work in clubs have never been exposed to this kind of work before, so they are also learning.
“The Canal Street Blues flag is one of the most prominent at Etihad Stadium, and it’s great to see, but we’ve all seen derogatory comments when the club tries to promote anything to do with LGBT people.
“We have our own development as a company in the UK, but clubs have fans around the world where attitudes are different so there is a role for clubs to play, similar to racism.
The issue with homophobia closer to home, Alvardo says, is its prevalence on social media.
Holder of an Etihad stadium membership, he says the atmosphere on the ground when fans can attend is perfectly good – but the atmosphere online is often toxic.
“The sensible majority is the overwhelming majority. Yes, I’ve heard the odd throwaway commentary, but the real problem these days is social media. The real game day experience, most people generally wouldn’t tolerate it.
“I can’t remember the last time I heard a homophobic chant, but on our Canal Street Blues Facebook page, I had to delete comments with some pretty mean stuff because people think it didn’t. there are no consequences.
“In the ground, there are consequences: you will be thrown out, your subscription will be withdrawn. Online it is not a safe space. “
What can be done to make things better? In football, Alvardo believes it must be the players who drive the change – not necessarily through a player coming out, but more footballers of all sexualities are becoming more comfortable speaking publicly about the issue and condemn abuse as racism has been.
He says, “We all know there are bound to be gay male players, but it will take time for one of them to feel comfortable playing. When they do, it will change attitudes. For children, he will provide models.
“We see strange players making comments in favor of a tie, but it’s pretty rare. There is still stigma. All clubs, the FA, and fans can do is create an environment where being gay is okay.
“I don’t think there is a problem with people turning a blind eye, but in terms of the general feeling around homophobia in football, yes, it’s still there. The big engine will be if the players lead.
“At the end of the day, it’s a personal choice. I think the fans, the vast majority, will be very supportive. “
Ultimately, he thinks the game is heading in the right direction, but a more consistent strategy needs to be employed – not just a week or a month of action here and there.
“What we don’t want is a box-ticking exercise, which does nothing and can be patronizing.
“That’s why I’m really happy that City hired their Inclusion Manager, their passion is manifested in the issues. It’s an important role and it’s through the world group City, which to me shows that they want to take it seriously.
“If clubs do just the minimum that the Premier League tells them and it’s just sporadic and publicity-related, rather than getting their hands dirty, I can understand that. Sometimes fans have to push this.
“In Manchester, we have a very strong cultural link in the city with LGBT causes, it’s part of the fabric of the city. Clubs must take this into account. “