Rainbows Over The Hawthorns

These are strange times. It feels very much like the extreme views of anyone can be presented, and will be presented, due to social media. Facebook is under pressure, but despite that pressure many people read what they find on there, true or false, and believe it.

When I was at Uni, I wrote my dissertation on how media and media portrayal can affect the result of elections and change public perception. I wrote on the American election; Obama vs McCain. The media presentation of Obama was unlike anything else – regardless of policy, there was no way McCain would beat him. The media loved Obama, loved his catchphrases…he was money, he was change, he was exciting, he sold papers. Years later, McCain is now presented as he wanted to be in that election; a war hero with smart ideas. Just see how his Trump comments are presented.

It’s beyond easy to find racist or xenophobic posts on Facebook and Twitter. Both sites have attempted to thwart some major bodies – but, for example, removing a blue tick from the side of Tommy Robinson’s Twitter handle doesn’t diminish his influence on people. You need only search for “#FreeTommy” to see how many cling on to and believe the nonsense he spouts.

To suggest that Facebook or any form of social media is what makes people support the likes of Robinson is somewhat ridiculous. The EDL didn’t need Facebook to have supporters, the BNP were widely recognised before Twitter – what social media has done is given those people extra reach. What social media has also done is allow you to see who in your circle follows these views…it sparks debate, it sparks arguments, it can bring education and it can also enlighten. Different views, different opinions aren’t always negatives. If you can back it up, you can move things forward.

wba lgbt

But, adding to that element of social media that allows you to see other people’s views, no matter how backward they may seem, can be disturbing. It can be disappointing, rage inducing, offensive. I’d like to share some tweets (spelling mistakes and all) I have seen regarding news about West Bromwich Albion agreeing to fly a rainbow flag at The Hawthorns in support of the LGBT community.

“So it will be now known as the Gay stand. Away fans are gunna love it. Thanks Albion but the majority of the East stand I reckon are heterosexuals. Oh I forgot the majority doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Next it will be the “proud to support paedophilies flag” which the LGBT (let’s go bang toddlers) also believes is just a sexual preference rather than a perversion.”

“PC Bollocks…How about a stand for blokes that shag women 5 times a night? Not PC enough?”

“Ffs what’s happened to football? PC gone fucking mad”

“So because youre gay you have to tell everyone by having a flag. I feel victimised because i am straight and we havent got a flag”

In a time where being openly gay is widely accepted, there is still an underbelly of homophobia. Sadly, in football, it’s seemingly more common than in other areas. The above tweets are all from a minority, and thankfully many were pulled up by others and rightly lambasted, but that’s not to say others don’t have these feelings. Unfortunately the sad truth is that the first tweet may have some truth to it – it’s not far fetched at all to believe that some away fans would, and will, target it.

The list of openly gay footballers is ridiculously short. Perhaps the most famous player being Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 and tragically committed suicide in 1998 aged only 37. The most recent high profile player, Thomas Hitzlsperger, only came out after retiring from the game. There are rumours that there are several gay players in the Premier League yet none have come out. Yes, it’s up to the person as to whether they announce their sexuality to the press, but it’s equally so concerning that even now, in this day and age, there is a belief that players are scared to come out as gay for fear of the impact it would have on their career.

A huge part of that will be because of the vitriol they know they would receive from the fans of different clubs, and to an extent even their own (as seen above). Why would you put yourself in line for the abuse?

This is football’s problem. Hooliganism raises it’s head every now and then, but homophobia is easier to find. It’s a massive issue, and one that Albion should be praised for trying to tackle. The founder of the WBALGBT group, Piero Zizzi, has said, “If the flag makes just one person feel more welcome at The Hawthorns, then it’s served its purpose” and he is correct. The hope has to be that it does help, and that the supporters contribute and ensure they do their bit to tackle homophobia in the game.

It’s quite apt that Albion have taken the decision to support the LGBT community. It’s a club with a proud history and a club with a history of tackling discrimination. The “Three Degrees”, Cyrille Regis, Brendan Batson and Laurie Cunningham were the most high profile black players in English football at the time the Albion had them in the team. Bananas were thrown on the pitches, but the club and, perhaps more importantly, the fans really ensured those three players were looked after and were seen as “one of their own”. Colour didn’t matter to them. They loved those three players. They still do.

And now, sexuality shouldn’t matter. It may only be a flag hanging in the East Stand this coming season, but it may make a difference. Earlier I wrote how difference of opinion on social media can be healthy, and it can be educational. For some people, I genuinely hope that this is educational, and that it opens eyes to see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a different sexual orientation. And then comes the hope that one day a player would feel more comfortable in being openly gay. For all we know, the next Lionel Messi may be in this country, afraid to display his or her talent, because of the stigma that is still apparently attached to homosexuality in football today. It needs to change. It will change.

On a final note, the placing of the flag is rather fitting. The East Stand was built in 2001, replacing the old family stand that was called The Rainbow Stand.

There’s something quite nice about the LGBT flag flying in the Rainbow Stand…perhaps they should bring the old name back.