Freedom News

Football sees increase in homophobia

For those of us who love football we are well aware of the sad history of bigotry that unfortunately runs alongside the beautiful game. As with most sports a certain amount of macho behaviour is not unexpected and with it seems to come racism and homophobia.

While most high profile instances of recorded bigotry come from fans of the larger League teams, non-League football has seen its fair share too. Because of this the last decade has seen the rise of specifically and explicitly anti-racist, anti-sexist and anti-homophobic fans as well as groups such as Football Lads & Lasses Against Fascism (FLAF).

One group, Whitehawk Ultras formed by fans of the East Brighton team Whitehawk FC, came into existence specifically to challenge an increasingly intolerant element at their local club. Whitehawk fans now pride themselves on their inclusivity, zero tolerance attitude to bigotry and the family friendly atmosphere at games as well as their community focus and outreach efforts.

Despite this impressive work Whitehawk has still seen resistance to their vision of football for all. Their open and overt displays of tolerance have drawn the attention and ire of less tolerant fans from other clubs on several occasions, most infamously Wealdstone FC their so called Raider.

Last Saturday (14/1/23) Whitehawk fans were once again left angry and disappointed after a chaotic match between Whitehawk FC and Littlehampton Town FC, was marred by intimidation and homophobic abuse which ended with the police being called and at least one arrest.

This isn’t the first time Littlehampton Town FC supporters, who are beginning to develop a reputation due to the unsavoury actions of some of their number, have found themselves courting controversy. Littlehampton’s first two games of the season had the club defending its fans from accusations of smashing up a pub in Faversham and racist and homophobic abuse by both a player and supporters during another game, once again against Whitehawk FC.

Given this reputation precautions were put in place for Saturday’s game including searches at the entrance and a police van on standby. Signs of the trouble ahead started early with reports of a large group of Littlehampton fans, some dressed all in black, walking round Whitehawk in a threatening fashion before the start of the game. Despite the stewarding operation in place Littlehampton fans still managed to smuggle smoke bombs and firecrackers, which are banned, into the Whitehawk grounds setting them off not just in the stands but also the clubhouse bar and toilets. Due to this the decision was made to keep the sides segregated for the rest of the match and the police were called.

Even with these precautions things did not improve, homophobic abuse and aggressive posturing from Littlehampton fans continued to sour the already tense mood. Regulars to Whitehawk games have spoken of how the intimidating atmosphere caused by the Littlehampton fans resulted in some of those with children leaving the game early. Others reportedly decided not to attend the game at all. Unsurprisingly this appalling show of bigotry did not cause the police to step in. It wasn’t until a number of Littlehampton fans stormed the pitch that Sussex police jumped to action and even then they just escorted the invaders off and allowed them to rejoin the unruly crowd.

In the end there was only one arrest, that of a Whitehawk supporter, and then only for allegedly swearing at a police officer, although they were later de-arrested after being escorted from the grounds. The game ended with the two crowds leaving the grounds separately. But this didn’t stop the ongoing antics of the Littlehampton contingent, social media posts show Whitehawk fans and confused locals reporting police chasing a large group round town after the match was over.

Since the match both Whitehawk and Littlehampton Town FC were quick to post statements addressing the day’s disorder. Whitehawk FC expressed their sadness at the behaviour on display at the match. They went on to apologise to their supporters, acknowledging that the precautions put in place before the match were ineffective and reiterated the clubs commitment to opposing bigotry and abuse in football.

Littlehampton’s statement was much more defensive in tone, acknowledging the use of smoke bombs and firecrackers by their supporters, but went on to emphasise “BOTH sets of supporters” were involved in the day’s incidents and seemed to imply that it had in fact been Whitehawk fans who had invaded the pitch. They failed to mention or address the widely reported homophobic abuse and aggressive behaviour from their supporters.

Both clubs have said they are in communication with Isthmian League, the Football Association and Sussex Police over what happened.

There has been a mixed reaction on social media from followers of the Isthmian League, but many have claimed to be unsurprised at the poor behaviour from the Littlehampton supporters recounting their own experiences at matches.

While it is obviously disappointing to see the sort of homophobia on display at that game, it is unfortunately not an isolated incident. Homophobia v Football have recently put out a statement calling for action after seeing “an alarming rise in incidents of homophobia in men’s professional football in England” over the last few weeks. This of course follows the widely reported increases in hate crimes against members of the queer community in Britain over the last couple of years.

While it’s open to speculation whether or not Whitehawk has been specifically singled out due to its anti-homophobic stance on this occasion, it is clear that in the face of the increasing hate and abuse a loud, open and unapologetic stance is still both very relevant and much needed in football. The corrupt and institutional bigoted police can’t be relied on to deal with these issues. It is through fan organising and community engagement that we are strongest and best placed to challenge intolerance.

Stanton Cree

Image: Hrse12, CC BY-SA 4.0 The main stand step detail Whitehawk FC

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