Rich Howgill is a gay man who walked away from football when he came out in his twenties but has since come back to the sport. Initially as a player with Leftfooters FC (an LGBTQ+ football club in London) then as a volunteer with Support U (an LGBTQ+ support charity in Reading), as a member of the Pride of Irons (West Ham LGBTQ+ supporters group) and now as Non-executive Director for Inclusion at Berks and Bucks FA.
February is Football V Homophobia’s month of action. Berks & Bucks FA are supporting this and asking affiliated clubs and leagues to get involved and support the campaign.
Why LGBTQ+ Inclusion in football matters
Here, Rich shares his personal experiences and thoughts of inclusion in the game and why it really matters:
I played football in my late teens and early twenties (very badly but with enthusiasm) and supported West Ham like most of my family and many of my friends. When I worked out my sexuality in my mid-20s I felt I had to make a choice between being open about myself and continuing to play and support football.
To do both felt incompatible.
I’d fought hard to able to be myself, so I felt I had no choice but to walk away from the sport I loved. It took me another 15 years to come back to it and even then, it was only playing in the safe space of a gay team in London and as a member of an LGBTQ+ fan group.
Historically, football was a notoriously unwelcoming environment for LGBT+ people for many reasons. However, today, whilst rarely explicit or deliberate, a history of prejudice and insufficient proactive positive support is sometimes all that it takes to allow that perception to continue.
You may think ‘But we don’t have any LGBTQ+ people in our club!’ or question why you should worry about it, but change does not happen overnight, and we all have a responsibility to ensure the game is safe, fun and inclusive for all.
You may not have any openly gay players at your club today, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have players who are gay but who are not confident to come out for fear of what may happen. They might be making a choice to keep their sexuality hidden for fear of not being able to play anymore.
You almost certainly have young players who are questioning their own sexuality and who may feel they have to make a choice between being true to their own identity and continuing to play the game they love. You may have LGBTQ+ people involved in the organisation and running of the club, or family and friends of club members who attend games, who keep their sexuality hidden for the same reasons.
It’s almost certain you have someone in or around your club who is LGBTQ+ and we have to ask ourselves whether we are creating an environment where they feel truly welcome and able to be themselves. If the answer is that you could do more, then this campaign can help you.
In my roles as Non-Executive Director for Inclusion for Berks & Bucks FA and Chair of their Inclusion Advisory Group, it is my belief that everyone should have the same opportunity to enjoy our sport regardless of their identity, culture or beliefs, and that no-one should have to choose between participation and being their authentic self.
This belief aligns with The FA philosophy of ‘Football For All’. That this game we all love is for everyone.
For you. For me. For all.
My goal is that everyone in our counties should have the opportunity to play our sport and see if it is for them. Not everyone will like it and many will walk away having given it a go. But let them do so because they decided for themselves that the game wasn’t for them and not because they feel excluded, unwelcome, marginalised or worse, discriminated against.
To achieve this, we need your allyship.
Supporting this Football V Homophobia campaign is a first step to making it clear to everyone within your club, our clubs, or those still yet to come, that LGBTQ+ people will be welcomed and supported and that football within your club and our game truly is For All.