12th Man: Short film about gay grassroots footballers

The psychological effects of hiding who you are from your team-mates can be seen in ’12th Man’ – watch the teaser trailer here…

By Jon Holmes

“This is a story about football, but it’s more about what happens behind closed doors.”

Writer Jack Gemmell and director Caitlin Black are film-making cousins who last year ran up every single step in all 12 Scottish Premiership stadiums in a bid to highlight homophobia in football.

Money raised from the Stadium Run went towards the Stonewall Scotland charity, with the cousins then launching a successful Kickstarter to fund a short film tackling the issue of toxic masculinity and homophobia in grassroots football.

The teaser trailer for ’12th Man’ is out now, with Jack and Caitlin looking to get the film screened at festivals later in 2020 and into 2021.

Shot on location at Partick Thistle’s Firhill ground, ’12th Man’ stars Lorn Macdonald – named Best Actor at last year’s BAFTA Scotland Awards for his role in the brilliant movie ‘Beats’ – and Guy Hodgkinson as footballers Angus and Charlie.

The team-mates are struggling to come to terms with their relationship and their sexuality. It’s also having an effect on how they are viewed within their local side, particularly by their gaffer (Mark McKirdy).

Much of the narrative around homophobia in football is about elite athletes – the commercial side of the game and how players are hounded by agents and the press. Films like ‘​Mario​’, ‘​Wonderkid​’ and ‘The Pass​’ have depicted this to widespread acclaim. However, grassroots football is in many ways the genesis of this discriminatory culture, and an environment ’12th Man’ now explores.

Scotland is famous for its hypermasculine, almost brutal, style of football. Players are expected to be hard as nails – gloves and long sleeves are still lambasted and ridiculed by some. It’s a culture built on being bulletproof and showing no weakness – and being gay is seen as a major weakness to be targeted.

“I wrote this story almost three years ago and over that time it’s taken on a life of its own, mainly thanks to our incredible cast and crew who helped mould the narrative into what it looks like now,” says Gemmell.

“Our film gives a sense of what some players might be going through as they navigate and shield their sexuality from their teammates.”

Angus (Lorn Macdonald) is struggling to find his place in football in ’12th Man’

Homophobia and homophobic banter are still prevalent both on and off the pitch, with results of a 2016 survey undertaken by leading LGBT charity Stonewall showing that “​as many as 72% of football fans have heard homophobic abuse at football matches​”.

Scottish clubs are making strides to create an environment of inclusivity. Over 30 of them are active members of the Scottish LGBT Sports Charter; several top-flight clubs have LGBT fan groups; and many more clubs support Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign.

However, some suggest more direct action is needed across ​all​ levels of football.

Caitlin Black directs the new short film, written by her cousin Jack Gemmell

“This film’s primary intention is to open a dialogue, a platform, an artistic vehicle for changing and informing opinion,” says Black.

“When I initially read the script, I immediately connected with the story of Angus and Charlie. They’re going through what a lot of people go through at various stages in their lives – searching for the strength to live the life we each want to live.

“’12th Man’ seeks to show the psychological effects a person experiences when they’re unable to live as their true self.”

To learn more and to get updates on the film, follow 12thManLGBT on social at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Images courtesy of Kevin J Thomson – follow him on Instagram.

Further reading…

‘Outed at uni, I found my football family’

Podcasts: Gay footballers share their stories

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