The London Unity League’s Brian Silk is explaining how LGBT+ friendly football is finally getting the recognition it deserves in The Non-League Paper this week.
For years now, there has been a lot of interest in the UK in the question: Who are the gay Premier League footballers and when will the first one ‘come out’?
Much of this is interest is intrusive and unhelpful. There has been limited attention in the media given to gay or bisexual male footballers plying their trade in the lower rungs of football, such as Liam Davis, who played in the FA Vase final for Cleethorpes Town, or in grassroots football.
These pioneers are glimpse into the future of how football should be and are also excellent role models for LGBT+ people thinking of getting involved in football and their allies.
What is overlooked is the fact that there are hundreds of ‘out’ gay male or bisexual footballers in the UK playing the game.
There are around 25 LGBT+ friendly football clubs and most have been going for many years, starting with Stonewall FC – the first gay football club in the UK – which was formed in 1992.
The UK has the two largest LGBT+ friendly football leagues in the world: the Gay Football Supporters’ League (GFSN) and the London Unity League (LUL).
The most common story I hear is LGBT+ players saying they used to play football but stopped because they didn’t feel comfortable in a mainstream setting.
Then they discover there are LGBT+ inclusive teams. They go along and feel comfortable playing football as part of that club.
It is clear that LGBT+ friendly football clubs and leagues play a special and unique role in getting some people playing football who would otherwise not be playing at all.
I am particularly proud that we have, or have had, several trans or non-binary players involved in LUL clubs.
Whilst this is LGBT+ friendly football, it is not exclusively for LGBT+ people. A large number of players are straight and some clubs have predominantly straight players. We celebrate their involvement – they help break down barriers.
Anyone is welcome to play for LGBT+ friendly clubs and all interact with mainstream football, including some playing in county FA leagues.
Some are linked into professional clubs such as Charlton Invicta, affiliated to Charlton Athletic, and London Titans FC, who are linked to QPR. The LUL is working with the Amateur Football Alliance, a county FA.
Indeed, there may be lessons learned in the approach taken by LGBT+ friendly football. We have less onerous league rules and a more relaxed approach on the field. Also, we play mixed adult football – gender identity is not a barrier to playing for any of our clubs.
I hashtag the league’s tweets with #LeagueOfChoice as it is a league that anyone can play in, and more people are making that choice. They also tend to stick around.
Charlton Invicta won the ‘Grassroots’ category at last week’s Football vs Homophobia Annual Awards’, with London Titans getting third. The LUL has been shortlisted for the ‘FA for All’ award at next month’s London Football Awards.
It seems that LGBT+ friendly football is finally coming out of the shadows and starting to receive the recognition it deserves.
* Brian Silk has played for Leftfooters FC, Stonewall and Bexley Invicta. He founded Bexley (now Charlton Invicta) and was chairman from 2011 to 2015.
He helped to organise the International Lesbian and Gay FA World Championship 2008 in London and was co-chairman of Kent FA’s Equality Advisory Group from 2011 to 2019. He has been the Chair of the London Unity League since 2018.