After years of campaigning against racism in the game, football is turning its attention to tackling homophobia.
One of the clubs at the forefront of the battle is Charlton Athletic, who became the first professional football club in the country to have an official partnership with a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) friendly side in August 2017.
According to CACT Invicta FC player-manager Gary Ginnaw, the alliance is helping to fight football’s homophobia problem.
Previously named Bexley Invicta FC, the initial partnership with the Addicks was established thanks to the Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT) and Charlton Athletic Race Equality Partnership (CARE).
Charlton have a huge heritage of fan action and community-based projects, so it is not surprising that the club were the first to announce a partnership of this kind.
Ginnaw, a life-long Charlton supporter, explained that training and playing at the club’s training ground is one of the benefits Invicta have gained.
“We train every Tuesday night alongside the Charlton Deaf Team and Charlton’s women’s teams. On the pitch before us are the academy teams. There is a real community aspect,” he said.
Despite being an LGBT-friendly side, players are not required to be LGBT to play for the club. Invicta have competed in the London Unity League since 2012.
‘It’s about everyone being equal and supporting each other’ – Gary Ginnaw
“I didn’t want the re-branding to CAFC Invicta FC to deter from the football. We worked hard in pre-season and consequently have had our joint-best league start in six years,” explained the 34-year-old.
“CACT have also provided us with some structured sessions with one of their qualified football coaches.”
Ginnaw, who is also the vice-chair of Charlton’s LGBT fan group The Proud Valiants, said some of the fixtures dedicated to tackling discrimination have been organised through CACT’s support of the club.
“We have the annual Football v Homophobia-dedicated CAFC game at The Valley in February which we will be part of alongside CACT and Proud Valiants. In conjunction with this, there is the end of season CAFC v Homophobia football tournament. To play at The Valley is a huge honour.”
Ginnaw took over as manager of Bexley Invicta in 2015, with the club short of money and several players leaving. He explained the turning point which effectively led to his idea of speaking to the south east London club.
“We needed something to rejuvenate the club. I had contacts at CACT and arranged a meeting at the training ground,” he recalled.
“I used my knowledge and loyal support of the club over the previous 20 years to demonstrate how passionate I am, and show that with their support we could make a team to challenge for and win trophies, whilst also making a difference to people.
“It was slow to start with but eventually things progressed to where we are today.”
So will other professional clubs follow Charlton’s example?
First of many?
“I’d be shocked if other teams didn’t follow suit,” Ginnaw said. “I would like to see every professional football club launch their own LGBT-inclusive team much like the way the women’s game has expanded.
“We are raising awareness in the mainstream media. The response hasn’t always been positive, but at least it’s a headline in the news and causing debate amongst football fans. That has to be good rather than ignoring the issue.”
‘The governing bodies need to adopt a similar approach to the racism campaign. They need to raise awareness of the routes to report homophobic abuse’
He also feels more should be done by football’s governing bodies in the fight against discrimination.
“It starts from the top. The racism in football campaigns would not have been successful without the full support of the governing bodies.
“In England, we need the Premier League, EFL and FA to be 100% behind stamping out homophobia in football – from the pitch to the terraces.”
So what does Ginnaw feel needs to be done to banish incidents of discrimination in the game?
“The governing bodies need to adopt a similar approach to the racism campaign.
“They need to raise awareness of the routes to report homophobic abuse – to educate stewards and, when an instance of abuse is reported, deal with it in such a way that it is deemed a major issue and if need be implement a ban to football grounds.
“If we can all be inclusive, then eventually LGBT-friendly teams and leagues will no longer be required. It’s about everyone being equal and supporting each other.”