‘An unprecedented turnout!’ – why GFSN’s Summer Get-Together in Blackpool is so popular

Published by Jon Holmes on

This weekend, footballers from LGBTQ+-inclusive teams across the country are flocking to Blackpool for GFSN’s annual Summer Get-Together. The organisation’s chair Mike Kalogerou says this year’s tournament is extra special and that the need has not diminished for spaces in which everyone can be themselves and fully enjoy the sport they love…

By Jon Holmes

All eyes will be on the Olympic Stadium in the Japanese capital on Friday for the start of Tokyo 2020, but for a large group of footballers in the UK, the most important opening ceremony of the day will be at The Flying Handbag in Blackpool.

The famous gay bar will be the location for the GFSN Summer Get-Together tournament draw, as well as a party venue for players, coaches and the odd casual supporter who have made the trip to the west coast.

The event is extra-special for GFSN member clubs but last year, it couldn’t be held due to the pandemic. The most recent installment was hosted by Mersey Marauders FC in Liverpool in June 2019.

We caught up with GFSN chair Mike Kalogerou of the Leicester Wildecats to learn more…

JH: It’s great to see the return of the Summer Get-Together. Why is this tournament so special to GFSN?

MK: The GFSN is not just a football league, it’s a social network of friends, partners and football people all over the country. That social interaction between our members and clubs is just as important as the sport itself.

Many of our members have been at different levels of isolation or lockdown for such a long time, and that’s had such a detrimental impact on their mental health.

The turnout for Blackpool is unprecedented and that typifies the need and desire for our people to be together again. We’ve never had a turnout like this before!

You have around 40 teams participating, from around 15 clubs. Tell us about some of the tournament entrants…

The quality of the football coming out of our teams has really rocketed. The good work done by clubs such as Manchester Village, Yorkshire Terriers, London Falcons, and Cardiff Dragons, who are all playing locally in Saturday/Sunday leagues, has helped to spread the word and message of LGBTQ+ rights within football.

This has also helped to raise the bar in terms of the standard of football on show. Ones to watch are this season’s GFSN cup winners Manchester Village, while London Romans will be strong too – both are regularly successful in tournaments put on by the GFSN.

Yorkshire Terriers have a particularly sharp goalscorer in Tom Carter, who is prolific in the GFSN League and the Midlands Unity League. If you’re asking me about the early bookies’ favourites, I’d have to plump for Manchester Village due to the weight in numbers – they are entering five teams, the most of any club.

We marked the sad news of Leviathen Hendricks’ death recently with an obituary. He’s still very much in our thoughts and I know it’ll be emotional for East End Phoenix in particular when you remember him at the tournament. Can you tell us about his legacy?

Everyone at the GFSN was extremely saddened to hear of the tragic passing of Leviathen. He served on the GFSN committee and worked tirelessly to advance campaigns, including Rainbow Laces, and he dedicated lots of his time helping to set up LGBTQ+ football fan groups.

In 2008, he founded East End Phoenix and he later had roles with Gay Games and Out For Sport too. He was committed to making the sporting world more inclusive and he will be sadly missed by all of us.

Additionally, earlier this year, we lost Gavin Whitfield who was part of the GFSN committee. Gav was an integral part of Mersey Marauders and came forward to help the committee grow and expand the organisation outside of football, more specifically obtaining sponsorship for the GFSN. He was a true gentleman who will also be greatly missed.

The Euros had incredible LGBTQ+ and Pride visibility, and the England team did so much for inclusion. Also there were pop culture moments like Josh from London Titans in the Nike ad; Stonewall FC in the media; etc. What do you think this has done for amateur players such as yourselves? What would you like to see happen next, whether at your level or a higher level?

You can’t underestimate the importance of professionals in the game putting their heads above the parapet and standing up for LGBTQ+ rights in the game. Until prejudice is rooted out of the game, and players can feel safe to be who they want to be, there will always be an arena for campaigning for the rights of our players.

There will also always be a need for an organisation like us whilst anger and phobias are targeted against our people.

The next step we would like to see is inclusivity and acceptance of our trans members within grassroots football. For many trans players, the GFSN is the only safe space in which they can feel accepted. A lot of energy goes into the gay spectrum and there’s not enough representation of the whole picture.

Whilst that’s still important too, wouldn’t it be great to live in a world where football was the winner, and not hatred to individual difference.

Our thanks to Mike, and best wishes to all involved in the GFSN Summer Get-Together in Blackpool. Find out more on the GFSN website.

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Jon Holmes

Digital Sports Editor