‘Incredible’ Football Pride brings LGBTQ people and allies together in Manchester

Published by Jon Holmes on

Football v Homophobia event, held alongside Manchester Pride, unites community in the game; gay player Zander Murray says symposium will help to create more role models; fellow speaker Sabah Ahmad joins Out & Out Football’s Adam Haworth on new episode of FvH Podcast to reflect – listen now!

By Jon Holmes

The Football Pride parade group take to the streets of Manchester city centre

With spirit-lifting panel chats, celebratory socials and even some voguing on the parade, Football Pride achieved its ambitions and more on Manchester Pride weekend.

Returning for the first time in three years – and as an in-person event, having been entirely virtual in 2020 – this special get-together for LGBTQ+ people in diverse roles across the game was an opportunity to see out the summer and welcome in the new season in style.

From the Thursday night socials right through to the craziness of Saturday night on Canal St, there was a festival feel about Football Pride, with everyone involved helping to create happy memories and a community vibe.

An essential figure was Professor John Goldring and his colleagues at Manchester Metropolitan University who provided the space for the Friday symposium, which began with a Women’s World Cup debrief that highlighted moments of queer joy during the tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

One such talking point stemmed from the Progress Pride painted nails of New Zealand’s Ali Riley and a story she shared after the co-hosts’ exit, about a girl in an Auckland psychiatric unit whose condition improved after seeing the rainbow colours and feeling a sense of solidarity.

FIFA and Women’s Super League referee Stacey Pearson was alongside Kick It Out’s Chris Paouros and Foudy’s founder Helen Hardy for that opening conversation, chaired by BBC Sport’s Emma Smith.

Emma Smith, Chris Paouros, Helen Hardy and Stacey Pearson looked at the Women’s World Cup through an LGBTQ+ lens (symposium photos by Gordon Marino)

Pearson said afterwards: “Something that Ali Riley said in her video was that ‘small gestures can make a big impact’ and I think the fact that we had so many out players at the Women’s World Cup shows how far we’ve come – but it also highlighted how far we still have to go.

“With people like us coming to these events and sharing our stories as well, it’s only going to make things go further. It’s nice to celebrate the great things we have going on in our country.”

Football Pride was supported by a range of sponsors and partners, including the EFL, Kick It Out, the FSA’s Fans for Diversity initiative, Fare, and Sports Media LGBT+.

Yotel Manchester in Deansgate generously hosted the Football Pride Friday night party in its Motley bar and provided additional assistance to make the event possible.

Making the trip down from Scotland to take part were Bonnyrigg Rose’s Zander Murray and referee Lloyd Wilson, both of whom came out publicly last year.

They were among the ‘Gamechangers in Men’s Football’ who chatted to BBC Radio Manchester’s Mike Minay about their experiences on the second panel of the day.

Murray said it had been a “whirlwind” 12 months but underlined his gratitude for the opportunities that had come his way.

“I was in the closet, and struggling,” said the striker, reflecting on how his mental health used to be. “I thought there was no one out there like me. I didn’t have any role models.

“So it’s incredible to be in a room with people like myself, and to be part of a community like we have at Football Pride.”

Mike Minay, Zander Murray, Lloyd Wilson, Jake Williamson, Jahmal Howlett-Mundle and Mikey Connor were speaking about their journeys ‘Outside the Box’

The mental wellbeing of gay and bisexual men in sport was addressed by Wilson when he first shared his story, and was also a topic at Football Pride.

The other panellists for this segment were Sevenoaks Town FC’s Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, who came through the Academy set-up at Premier League club Crystal Palace as a youngster; former prospective pro footballer turned multi-discipline athlete, advocate and influencer, Jake Williamson; and Mikey Connor – a Liverpool FA referee who has found fame through BBC gay dating show ‘I Kissed A Boy’.

All are members of the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective, an industry network for those who work in pro or semi-pro roles in the game and who are LGBTQ+ or active allies.

Wilson was at Manchester Pride in 2022 – one of his first experiences of such an event – and was keen to return to the city.

“It’s unbelievable to have football represented at a major Pride like this,” he said.

“Once upon a time, I didn’t think there were gay people in football. That was really the irony of the situation I was in.

“However, it’s great to be with so many like-minded people and enjoy the buzz in Manchester at this time of the year. I’m absolutely delighted to be here with people like Zander and Stacey.”

The group followed up their symposium appearance by recording a bonus episode of the ‘We’re Really Not Here’ podcast for BBC Radio Manchester Sport, again helmed by Minay.

The morning session concluded with considerable amounts of trans joy served up in a conversation titled ‘Monster TRUK!’ which was followed by a focus on the global challenges related to gender diversity in sport.

TRUK United FC player-manager Lucy Clark was alongside her wife and matchday co-ordinator Avril; the club’s two captains, Arthur Webber and Natalie Washington; and Webber’s transmasc team-mate, Parker Dunn.

A video recap of TRUK’s trailblazing year, created by Lucy, was screened, with Arthur leading the panel in a conversation about the positive impact of the club on the trans community, extending to unexpected places around the world.

Lucy explained how TRUK is thriving both in terms of merchandise sales and on the pitch, with expansion planned to more parts of the country through cup tournaments and GFSN football.

Afterwards, Washington switched duties to welcome world-renowned human rights expert Dr Chamindra Weerawardhana for a ‘fireside chat’.

Dr Weerawardhana successfully picked apart some of the more head-scratching interventions from governing bodies, and explained how to identify wedge issues and Trojan horses in sport – while also entertaining the audience immensely!

The second session began with ‘Realness With A Twist’, a new short drama that places the viewer in the shoes of a voguing footballer.

It was only the second time that the film had been screened for an audience in the UK and director / co-writer Cass Virdee was on hand to introduce it.

Watch the teaser trailer for new short film ‘Realness With A Twist’

Cass then joined her co-writer and producer David Giles and lead actor Kenzo Miyake-Mugler to talk about the film’s origin story, why she wanted to fuse football culture and ballroom culture, and the parallels of movement shared by players and voguers.

The film was wonderfully well-received in the auditorium and among those to give their reactions were Out and Out Football’s Adam Haworth and Lez Be United FC founder Sabah Ahmad, who are the guests on the latest episode of the Football v Homophobia Podcast.

Adam and Sabah were at Football Pride for the whole weekend, with the latter speaking on the symposium’s final panel.

Discussing ‘Realness With A Twist’, Sabah says on the pod: “It was so great to see that. I think it’s going to be shown on Channel 4 at some point soon, and it’ll be interesting too to see how they might develop it as a full film, which Cass says is in the works.”

Adam added: “People should watch it – it’s such a powerful deconstruction of masculinity in the game and how people are excluded because of certain assumptions.

“What Cass has done is create a very authentic story… intertwining these two cultures results in a really fascinating and powerful film.”

‘Realness With A Twist’ is being entered into the prestigious Iris Prize film festival

Carl Fearn, the co-chair of Gay Gooners, then delivered a visually stimulating presentation about the pioneering Arsenal LGBTQ+ fan group’s first 10 years and how its membership continues to diversify.

That was followed by a ‘what’s next?’ discussion chaired by Arsenal’s supporter engagement lead James Swanson, with Rainbow Blades’ James Laley (Sheffield United), Rainbow Devils’ Lindsey Parr (Manchester United) and from the Netherlands, Chantal van der Putten of Roze Kameraden (Feyenoord).

The trio shared stories that reflected the many highs that their respective groups have enjoyed but also some of the lows, most noticeably in Rotterdam where Chantal outlined how hooligans continue to direct hateful messages towards LGBTQ+ fans and the wider community.

James Swanson, James Laley, Lindsey Parr and Chantal van der Putten discussed LGBTQ+ fan groups

Rounding off the conference was a Manchester-focused segment about inclusive football clubs, with Sabah giving the background to Lez Be United – something she also provides on the FvH Podcast.

The club’s hilarious Pride video – a collaboration with local bar and sponsor Cruz 101 featuring drag queen Barb, Just Barb – was also played out, and swiftly created a swathe of hardcore new LB Utd fans in the room!

Katie McMillan-Nuttall and Lois Kay from Manchester Laces gave us the lowdown on Ball Together Now, an inclusive tournament and festival for women and non-binary teams, held for the first time in July.

FvH director Lou Englefield was then in the moderator’s chair and invited Kev Robinson of Village Manchester FC to explain how he had found a new football family since joining the club a few years ago.

GFSN’s newly-appointed Development Officer, Callum Prince, provided the national picture, outlining how progress continues across the country and where new areas for growth have been identified by the organisation.

Lou Englefield speaking to Kev Robinson, Sabah Ahmad and Callum Prince

Capturing moments throughout the day was photographer Gordon Marino, who also selected 14 of his favourite snaps from his Manchester inclusive football archive for a mini-exhibition.

Gordon was back out on Saturday morning to take pictures of the parade, which saw a Football Pride group marching with a new banner created by FvH design guru Jen Watts, whose eye-catching branding elevated the whole event to another level.

Helena from Classic Football Shirts MCR made this amazing Pride flag!

A relatively brief spell of drizzle didn’t deter the walkers or the watchers, with an estimated 36,000 people out on the streets.

A lucky few had the benefit of seeing voguer Kenzo in full flow, owning a stretch of Princess Street and delivering realness on the road! And it’s been saved for posterity on the @FootballPrideUK Instagram story highlights

So what does the future hold for Football Pride? Be sure to listen to Sabah and Adam share their suggestions on the new podcast episode and we’d love to hear your feedback too.

Just email jon@footballvhomophobia.com or fire over a DM via social media.

Thank yous go to everyone mentioned above, all the attendees and organisers across the three days, and anyone else who made Football Pride possible or just supported us from afar.

We’ll let our friend Mia Claydon have the final word…

You can keep up to date on Football Pride via TwitterInstagram and Facebook, and there’s more on the FvH website too.

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