“I never really felt like it was my place.”
During LGBT History Month, the Trust’s Youth Engagement Coordinator, Sam Hackney-Ring sits down with Gemma Teale, Co-Founder of the LGBeeTs, a fan group for Brentford’s LGBTQIA+ community, to discuss his experiences in football and recently attending his first game.
Sam Hackney-Ring is quick to acknowledge that sport and in particular football were never going to be his favoured hobbies. “Coming out as a teenager I struggled with sport as it was such a masculine activity. I’ve always been more of a theatre kid. The way my masculinity presents itself is different to the energy you get in sport. I’m very competitive in board games, but not so much in other activities. I was always going to be starting out on the backfoot as I never really felt that football and sport were my place.
“I’m not a football person. I haven’t got anything against playing it and I’ve previously enjoyed playing non-competitive games with friends which is just kicking a ball around. I don’t follow football and never really engaged with it until I started working for the Trust three years ago. The game is very different live, but watching it on TV doesn’t really interest me.”
For Gemma Teale who Co-founded Brentford’s LGBTQIA+ fan group, the LGBeeTs in August 2016, connection to the beautiful game was quite the opposite growing up.
Gemma says, “I always felt football was my place, long before I understood and felt this message that as a queer person ‘it’s not my place’ and I found that very jarring. As I became aware of my place in the LGBT community, I still didn’t connect that with some of the stuff I’d heard at football as I was so used to hearing things and had become immune to it. I think that’s true for a lot of people, and especially a lot of allies.
“I feel like there is now also a focus on sexism in the game and some of the things you used to hear sung in stadiums now sound very outdated. People are starting to register what might make another person feel uncomfortable which is important for the experience of all football fans.”
Watching Brentford Women break records
The first ever live match Sam attended was when Brentford Women’s first team played Watford Development Ladies at the Gtech Community Stadium last November. It was a memorable day as the Bees cruised to a 4-2 victory in front of a record crowd of 5,116 people.
Looking back on the day, Sam said, “It was a very nice atmosphere compared to what I was expecting. I felt like attending a Women’s game was less pressurised and as a queer man, there was an element of safety with women compared to men.
“Knowing it was a Women’s game I felt like there wasn’t as much of a masculine energy compared to what you might find at a Premier League game.
“For me, it was also important as some colleagues who work at the Trust play for Brentford Women’s team and I wanted to go to support them.”
Not every football fan is going to be homophobic, sexist or racist
As Sam and Gemma reflect on football fan culture they are both quick to acknowledge that a lot of what might be said at a football match isn’t necessarily coming from a place of hatred.
Sam comments, “Football has a culture around it and people that have been immersed in it for a long time don’t necessarily realise that what they are chanting could be causing offence to others. Not every football fan is going to be homophobic, sexist or racist. Even when fans are chanting horrible things I don’t think it is necessarily coming from a place of hatred.”
Looking at more recent times and Brentford now flying high in the Premier League, Gemma references “Chelsea rent boys” and the roots of the chant.
“I was surprised that some Brentford fans I chat to questioned whether the Chelsea rent boys chant was offensive. These are individuals I would consider an active ally but hadn’t made the connections either through genuinely not having a clue or not relating to its meaning and the offence the chant causes.
“Sharing knowledge is important and the Club were very supportive prior to playing Chelsea. Ultimately once you’ve been educated and know it’s your next action that matters.”
Negative association from youth
Looking back on her school days Gemma remarks, “Football is played in all schools and a lot of those negative associations from youth are linked to football. So many of the people we reached through the Skills Session in February are people who have felt excluded from team sports and football most of all.”
The conversation also turns to how accessible football is and whilst that is one of the game’s biggest strengths it also provided barriers for Sam.
“I think because football is so accessible at school it is what boys would play on their break and those tended to be the boys that had a problem with someone else being feminine or different. Football is never going to be the thing that saves you at school, I always found it was something else.”
Gemma responds, “I loved playing football at school, but it had to be ‘with the boys’ because at the time there was no girls’ football in school. I didn’t mind at all and enjoyed playing but once I got to Year 7 I decided I had to stop because I felt like I was too old to carry on playing. And that was that. I used to get asked a lot ‘do you want to be a boy then?’ which used to annoy me because it wasn’t that I wanted to be a boy, but I wanted to be able to do what boys were allowed to do. I still get the same sort of gender stereotyping now as I work in construction as a civil engineer. Society is very set on who can do what and it’s ridiculous when you think about it.”
The big question
As thoughts turn to Sam’s future involvement with football, Gemma was keen to know if Sam would attend a Brentford Men’s Team game with her.
“If I could bring someone with me!” answers Sam laughing. “From my perspective, I’m not a football person. No matter how many matches I watch it still won’t be my thing. I think if I was to go to a game in the future I would still need to have my own safety blanket.”
Join the LGBeeTs
If you are a Bees fan from the LGBTQIA+ community or an ally, join the LGBeeTs, sign up at lgbeetbrentford.co.uk or get in touch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the group on Instagram and Twitter
Celebrating LGBT History Month
You can read more about what the Trust have been doing to celebrate LGBT History month by clicking here.