25 Aug 2019 in Club Features
AFCO Visit Royal Oldham Children's Unit
AFC Oldham's Pride: The Truth About Being a Gay Footballer
It's Manchester Pride this weekend, so today seemed like a good time to talk about a topic which doesn't get much coverage in the sporting world. As if it isn't difficult enough being a football player who happens to be female, what must it be like to be a football player who happens to be a lesbian, too?
Lucy has been playing for AFC Oldham since 2018, when the Ladies' team was reborn after a few years' absence. Last year was a bit of a struggle for the team. Starting from scratch meant that many of the games were played without a full First XI. Today, the team is thriving, with a full squad signed up for the new season ahead. Lucy established herself as the conductor in the heart of AFCO Ladies' midfield, gaining recognition throughout the club. She is a mainstay at the team's social events. Life as a footballer hasn't always been smooth for Lucy. I caught up with her to find out about the bumps along the way.
P: When did you start playing football?
L: About 4 years old. I used to watch matches with my Grandad and Dad, but I actually started playing very young.
P: When did you realise that you were gay?
L: I never really had a 'realisation'. I've always known because I've never been attracted to boys. I was never attracted to male celebrities growing up. I probably accepted myself for who I was early on in High School.
P: How long have you been in a relationship with you girlfriend, Meg; and have there been any challenges being in a relationship and playing for the same team? [Meg is a midfielder for AFCO].
L: We've been together nearly two years. I have thought in the past that people might be worried about favouritism. Would I pass the ball to her more often? Would I be on the same side as her during every dispute? Would people think they couldn't talk to Meg because I'd feel threatened, and vice versa?
P: Have you had any problems in football clubs when people find out that you're gay?
L: Not when I was younger because it's not something that was talked about. I did have a feeling that one club I played at was disbanded because of concerns about older gay women 'turning the younger ones gay.' Some people may worry that individual people in clubs treat them differently because they're gay, but often this is due to personal insecurities.
P: Is there a time you can think of when there was an obviously homophobic attitude or culture?
L: A coach once told my friend's mum to take her child out of a ladies' team because he was worried that there were "too many lesbians" on the team. Another coach spoke openly about his belief that the older female players were "grooming" the younger players in the team to be gay - this was definitely not happening. Location has a big impact on club culture. I've played at a club situated in a village where I saw and heard a lot of homophobia. It's not surprising that the people involved at the club had similar prejudices.
P: What's it like being a gay woman playing for AFC Oldham?
L: It's brilliant because no one judges you. We're like a family. People from all levels of the club make an effort to talk to the female players at club events. Some of them watch us in training and in matches, and they're always encouraging. The Manager, Andy, is amazing as well. It's rare to come across a man in women's football who looks at you as a football player, and a friend, rather than just another gay woman kicking a football. He treats us the same as he treats the men - he gives us the same respect and he has the same expectations.
It's certainly encouraging to find that Lucy has found a club where she belongs. However, it's disappointing that her experience at AFCO is unusual. Lucy also wanted to emphasise that it's not just difficult for gay women in football. "It must be annoying being a straight woman and people still thinking you must be gay because you play football." Contrary to common belief, gay women are not in the majority in most women's football teams, at least in Lucy's experience, and in the experience of most female players at the club. There's a subtle homophobia, as well as sexism, behind that thought process.
Hopefully events like Manchester Pride can be a reminder of the progress we've made, as well as the challenge ahead.
AFC Oldham Ladies train at 8pm every Wednesday at Hathershaw School. They play matches most Sundays at 2pm.