Homophobia within the footballing world is an unfortunate and anachronistic reality. From the continuing lack of any ‘out’ Premier League players, to the homophobic language regularly heard at grounds across the country, football seems to bring out men’s inner Neanderthals. LGBT players and fans justifiably feel like there’s no place for them on the pitch nor in the stands, and those who brave the footballing world often do so whilst staying in the closet
Yet Cambridge can’t be like that, can it? Surely everyone here is reasonable enough to resist giving in to those Neanderthalic impulses at the sight of some goalposts and a ball? This is the question I sought to answer when I gamely set off to the Abbey Stadium to watch the Light Blues take on their Varsity rivals. This wasn’t done purely to write this column: shock horror, I’m gay but I actually do like football. I follow a team, understand the offside rule and am even capable of holding an argument on the respective merits of zonal versus man-marking. Unsurprisingly, I felt aggrieved that one Jesuan assumed I was only there to write “another one of those columns”.
Having won the Cuppers Shield that morning, Jesus was probably the most drunk and unruly contingent at Varsity, so I definitely got the full Varsity experience. However, I can happily report that I didn’t overhear a single homophobic comment during the match. If I felt ‘out of it’, it was far more attributable to my having been awake for 28 hours and to being sober (for once) than to my being gay. In fact, my biggest personal grievance was not being able to get my promised free burger and beer!
A couple of chants were misogynistic and heteronormative – I felt particularly unable to convincingly yell about licking whisky off a Belfast girl’s titties (perish the thought). I overheard one guy remark on the way out that “most of our chants are about guys with big dicks fucking lots of women”. Make of that what you will. To be honest, I can understand why any female Jesuans at the game chose not to sit with the guys. However, misogyny in football is an issue that I have neither the space nor any qualification to do any justice.
As for the football itself, the game was decent. Cambridge did well to hold out for a 1-1 draw, and the resulting penalty shootout was pretty tense. Our boys may have lost, but I had a genuinely good time. That said, tolerance in the stands is no guarantee of acceptance in the dressing room. The impression that squads harbour a homophobic environment, whether it is accurate or not, would certainly still put many queer men off getting involved with their college team.
Whether they are the College Fourths or Premier League winners, it’s not enough for teams to do nothing in the face of homophobia, even if it’s not prevalent amongst their own players. They need to actively dispel the view that football is a straight man’s world, whether that be through supporting players in coming-out or through signing up to initiatives such as Stonewall’s No Bystanders campaign.
I may have had fun at Varsity, but that doesn’t change the fact that homophobia (and misogyny) exist in the Cambridge footballing world. This needs to change, and I can think of worse ways than following the lead of the Warwick rowing team in producing a naked calendar to raise money for charities that combat homophobia. Although institutional homophobia can’t be removed as easily as a football kit, it’s a start.
Ethan Axelrod (GR. Columnist)