‘Football’s for everyone – this is our world!’: Proud Lilywhites among winners on uplifting Football v Homophobia Awards night

Published by Jon Holmes on

Tottenham’s LGBTQ+ and allies fans group makes powerful statement after success in Supporters’ Group category at fourth annual FvH Awards, held at National Football Museum in Manchester; Sheffield United take Professional Club prize, with Cardiff Dragons chair Charlotte Galloway named FvH Hero; Blackpool’s Jake Daniels, referee Lloyd Wilson, and Daily Mirror reporter Jacob Leeks also winners on the night…

By Jon Holmes

Chris Paouros, co-chair of Proud Lilywhites, delivered a rousing speech at the Football v Homophobia Awards

Community spirit and the impact that individuals can make through inclusion in sport were both celebrated on an unforgettable Football v Homophobia Awards evening at the National Football Museum in Manchester.

After two years of delivering the event online due to lockdown restrictions, the long-running campaign’s big night was an in-person affair once again – and supporters turned out in force to recognise the achievements of LGBTQ+ people and active allies across the game.

Title sponsored this year by EE Hope United, and featured by both the BBC and Sky Sports, the ceremony raised the bar even further for FvH which held its first Month of Action back in 2010 and continues to go from strength to strength.

On their fourth successive year on the Supporters’ Group shortlist, Proud Lilywhites got their hands on the top prize in that category for the first time, with the Tottenham fans group’s co-chair Chris Paouros also getting one of the loudest cheers of the evening with an impassioned speech highlighting the need for solidarity.

“While homophobic and transphobic hate is on the rise, while we’re being attacked on our streets and in our parks, while our trans siblings are under attack every single day in the media and everywhere else, we’ll do this and continue to do this,” she said from the stage.

“Football is for everyone – this is our world!”

As well as commending Proud Lilywhites for their wide reach and Proud Champions scheme, the judges acknowledged the significance of Paouros’s work in partnership with Chelsea Pride’s Tracy Brown.

Through their leadership, the two fan groups worked closely together to raise awareness of the damage done by the homophobic chant directed at Chelsea and to influence the Crown Prosecution Service, which in 2022 updated its advice to make incidents in which the slur is sung or shouted potentially prosecutable as hate crime offences.

Rainbow Blades and Proud Grecians took second and third place respectively in the Supporters’ Group section.

However, the Blades were able to celebrate a victory in the Professional Club category – sponsored by the EFL – in which Sheffield United were named winners.

The Championship promotion chasers were praised for their year-round activity and whole-club approach to LGBTQ+ inclusion implementation, with Chelsea and Watford completing the shortlist.

The evening had begun with a sensational performance from singer Alanna Boden that had attendees in the Football Museum pitch gallery on their feet and dancing. BBC Radio Manchester commentator Mike Minay continued to keep the audience in good cheer throughout in his role as awards ceremony host.

His first job of the night was to invite Simone Pound, the Director of ED&I at event sponsor The Professional Footballers’ Association, to announce an Outstanding Contribution award for Blackpool’s young striker Jake Daniels.

In his video message, Jake Daniels said he had been “overwhelmed” by the support he has received since coming out

The history-making teenager, who made headlines worldwide when he shared his story publicly in May 2022, sent a message of thanks by video. Mitch Bryant, a consultant and mentor with agency Astra Partners which looks after Daniels, accepted the trophy on Jake’s behalf.

Elsewhere on the night, it was a one-two for the National League South in the Non-League Club category, with Concord Rangers pipping holders Dulwich Hamlet to the gong. Harrogate Railway Athletic of the Northern Counties East League Division One completed the shortlist.

Brighton Seagals club founder Justine Thomson was up from the south coast to collect the winner’s award for the Women’s Game, sponsored by EE Hope United.

Sheffield United Women and Manchester Laces’ Helen Hardy were also trophy recipients, recognising their visibility and versatility.

Lloyd Wilson

The FvH Scotland Award was one of two new additions for this year’s ceremony. Taking top honours north of the border was referee Lloyd Wilson, whose coming-out story in June 2022 helped to significantly shift the conversation in the Scottish game.

In part, it paved the way for more representation for gay men in the shape of Zander Murray, who came out publicly a couple of months later; he was runner-up. Having impressively interviewed both Wilson and Murray on his Pride of the Terraces platform, and produced further insightful LGBTQ+ in football content, Andrew Henderson was third in this category.

The Welsh equivalent, the FvH Cymru Award, went to the indefatigable Brandon Gregory whose moving acceptance speech was a reminder of the rapid progress being made on inclusion in Wales.

Gregory’s influence on a national level could be measured by both The Rainbow Wall – the LGBTQ+ and allies fans’ group for the national teams – and his club Cardiff Dragons also being shortlisted.

The International Award sponsored by Fare was won by Sportif Lezbon, Turkey’s first LGBT+ inclusive club based in the capital Ankara. Co-founder Selin Yildiz recorded an acceptance speech video in which she addressed the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and neighbouring Syria, dedicating the award to all those who lost their lives, and encouraging support of NGOs critical to the aid effort.

Also shortlisted in the category were Ukrainian sports charity League of Tolerance and Copenhagen-based club BK Vestia.

Lincolnshire FA walked away with the main trophy in the County FA category, sponsored by the Football Association, after introducing an accredited club programme in the area alongside other inclusion work. Cheshire FA and London FA were second and third respectively.

Popular winners in the Grassroots Club category were trail-blazing TRUK United FC, whose profile and renown as a welcoming club for gender-diverse people continues to grow at pace. The shortlist was completed by Camden Bells FC and Glasgow-based Camp Hellcats.

The other freshly-minted category for 2023 was for Football Media, sponsored by Sky Sports, and in recognition of his year-round coverage of LGBTQ+ communities and issues in the game on the Mirror Football platform, the inaugural winner was reporter Jacob Leeks. Also shortlisted were Sports Media LGBT+’s Jon Holmes and Australia-based writer and journalist, Steven Poletti.

Jacob Leeks said he was “over the moon” to win the Football Media Award

The final award of the evening was the prestigious FvH Hero accolade, sponsored by EE Hope United. Third was Zack Leader, who not only spoke out about the impact of homophobia in grassroots football but has also used his voice to educate and inspire; and the runner-up was the founder of Camden Bells, Hannah Thornley, who took a public stand on behalf of trans and non-binary players who were being elbowed out of a football league that was not as inclusive as it claimed to be.

That meant Charlotte Galloway would collect the last award of the night, with the 2022 FvH Hero Hayley Wood-Thompson making the handover. Charlotte’s long list of achievements included their work as chair of Cardiff Dragons FC, leadership on ED&I projects, campaigning on the Welsh #WeBelong initiative, and representation on local and national media.

That brought a close to the ceremony itself but with DJs Natalia and Charms spinning the wheels, the party was really only just getting started.

FvH campaign director Lou Englefield told BBC Radio Manchester: “The importance of nights like this is that people understand that if they work in a positive way for the LGBTQ+ community within football, that there is a reward to that.

“People will acknowledge you, we will say thank you, we are grateful for the steps that you’ve taken. When we announce the shortlists, the build-up to the night gives a real sense of positivity that we can make a difference, we can make a change.

“Those of us who have been working in the game for a very long time are really grateful for that.”

The FvH Month of Action continues until the end of February – and from March 24 to 31, it’s the Week of Action for Football v Transphobia.

Do you have a working role in football and want to contribute towards making the game more inclusive? Check out the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective – a new network group supported by FvH, Kick It Out, Women in Football, Sports Media LGBT+ and others. Email hello@lgbtqfootball.com to learn more!

Sports Media LGBT+ is a network, advocacy, and consultancy group that is helping to build a community of LGBTQ+ people and allies in sport. We’re also a digital publisher. Learn more about us here.

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