Max Kelly gives us his reaction to San Diego Loyal walking off during a USL Championship match after player receives homophobic abuse.
Earlier this month, a clash between San Diego Loyal and Phoenix Rising in the United Soccer League (USL) Championship, American’s second tier, was marred by a homophobic incident. The abuse – which was aimed towards openly gay San Diego Loyal midfielder Collin Martin – prompted his teammates to walk off and forfeit the match. The decision was a bold one, as it meant that Loyal automatically lost 3-0 in a game in which they were leading 3-1. The defeat means that the Californian team, who are managed by US football legend Landon Donovan, will not reach the playoffs this year. However, the decision to not continue the game is admirable, and is far more significant than reaching any playoff. It showed that San Diego Loyal would not stand for any discrimination, while highlighting that the repugnant stain of homophobia is still very much present in all levels of football.
The Phoenix Rising player guilty of the abusive language, Junior Flemmings, has been handed a six-match ban for his misconduct, as well as a fine. The swiftness and severity of the punishment is encouraging to see, but without tangible reform or education, it will surely only be a matter of time before we see a repeat of this disheartening episode.
It certainly is not just a troubling problem stateside, however, as homophobia and transphobia in football rear their ugly heads across the world. Britain is certainly no exception to this, despite the positive growth of education and inclusion campaigns aimed at making football at all levels more welcoming. Last weekend, the scenes that occurred on a warm night in California were repeated on a drizzly day in north Somerset. Players from Shipham AFC, who play in the fourteenth level of English football, walked off the pitch in their game against Portishead United after they claimed that an opposing player had made a comment that was “clear homophobic abuse”. Despite the difference in circumstances between the two games, this again highlights that homophobia is prevalent in all levels of football.
In the top levels of British football, there has been encouraging support for LGBTQ+ players from clubs, with pledges of severe bans for fans found guilty of homophobic abuse being widespread. However, in reality, the enforcement of these promised punishments has been few and far between. As the LGBTQ+ publication PinkNews recently reported, four West Ham supporters who were convicted of homophobic abuse have dodged the lifetime bans that the club threatened earlier in the year.
LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall have also recently produced some damning evidence that homophobia is still very much prevalent in British football. In their 2016 study, the charity found that 72% of football fans surveyed said they had heard homophobic abuse at a match, with that number being even higher in Scotland at 82%. They also found that the large majority thought that homophobic language was a “problem”. However, despite this, one in five respondents aged 18-24 said they would be “embarrassed” if their favourite player came out as gay.
There is certainly hope, despite the troubling instances of homophobia in football, that progress is being made in the education and awareness of these issues. Campaigns like Football v Homophobia are continuing to grow and educate, as LGBTQ+ supporters’ groups such Proud Jags (Partick Thistle) and Proud Dons (Aberdeen) are growing and having more connection to their clubs. Despite these positives however, more is certainly required by the authorities such as the Football Association and Scottish Football Association, as well as the clubs to tackle homophobia in the sport. After all, the game should be beautiful for all.