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Proud Lilywhites group carry the fight against homophobia in football

07:40 14 November 2014

Proud Lilywhites with their rainbow flag

Proud Lilywhites with their rainbow flag

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Troy Townsend is asked if a Premier League footballer will ever come out as gay. His reply is blunt: “Not in my lifetime. There is a culture in the game that homosexuality is not acceptable.”

Townsend, the education and development manager at Kick It Out and the father of the Spurs and England winger Andros, is speaking at a question-and-answer session hosted by Proud Lilywhites, the Spurs LGBT group, at White Hart Lane.

He continues: “Football needs to change. It needs to embrace the fact that there are a lot of differences within the game. If it doesn’t embrace that I’m not sure how comfortable someone would feel coming out.

“I say it won’t happen in my lifetime, but obviously I hope it will be sooner than that. But unless the culture of the game changes it is going to be very difficult for an individual who has to walk into the changing room day in, day out to be allowed to be themselves.”

It is a depressing analysis, but the evidence of its accuracy is overwhelming. As recently as August, Richard Bevan, the chief executive of the League Managers Association, was widely criticised for calling homophobic text messages sent by the former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay “friendly banter”.

Earlier this year Colin Kazim-Richards, the former Blackburn Rovers player, was found guilty of making a homophobic gesture at Brighton & Hove Albion fans during a match in 2013. He denied the charge, claiming he was bantering with the crowd.

In April last year Brighton, in conjunction with the Gay Football Supporters Network, submitted a report to the FA detailing a catalogue of incidents of homophobic abuse from rival supporters. As Townsend states, the problem exists throughout the game, from the boardrooms, to the changing rooms, to the stands.

But while the FA and Premier League struggle to implement a coherent response, the supporters are taking action. Proud Lilywhites is the latest group formed to support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender fans. Established in March, they followed Arsenal’s Gay Gooners and there are others at Liverpool, Manchester City and Ipswich Town.

“This is a movement that is gathering momentum,” says Daryl Telles, the co-chair of Proud Lilywhites. “We won’t be happy until football is an environment in which players and supporters can be open about their sexuality.”

Telles has been a season-ticket holder at White Hart Lane for 25 years, and says no one should be made to feel alienated.

“Spurs is in our blood, we’re all part of the same family and to suffer or overhear abuse from another supporter hurts,” he says. “You feel betrayed.”

Proud Lilywhites has grown in numbers since Spurs approached fans following Sol Campbell’s revelation that he suffered racial and homophobic abuse throughout his career. “That showed us that they are willing to act,” says Telles. “I think Spurs can become the most LGBT-friendly club in the country.”

Christina Paouros, the co-chair, agrees: “Homophobia is the last bastion of hate on the terraces,” she says. Spurs have continued to support Proud Lilywhites, granting permission for the fans to hang a rainbow flag from the lower tier of the west stand.

On Sunday, LGBT fans groups from across the country will meet at the Grange St Paul’s Hotel in central London to focus on how they can build on that success.

The event, called #Prideinfootball, will run workshops on how to report homophobic abuse at matches and look at ways to increase support for diversity and inclusion within football.

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