Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Clubs show intent to tackle homophobia while fans show just how far football has to go

Yesterday was meant to be a watershed occasion in the continuing fight against homophobia in football.

Both Brighton & Hove Albion and their guests at The Amex Stadium, Millwall, signed up to the Government’s Sports Charter, pledging to promote equality in football - particularly in the field of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender fans.

Launched last March, the Home Office initiative is designed to show that football should be for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.

And during a half time big screen clip, Millwall boss Kenny Jackett and Seagulls fan Norman Cook both voiced their support for the scheme.

Speaking earlier in the day, Brighton manager Gustavo Poyet had spoken out about the work being done by the Seagulls to tackle homophobia - an issue particularly prevalent at Albion games because of the city's links to the gay community.

Poyet said, "We know the situation with the Brighton fans.

“I think we have been dealing with that fantastically and we keep supporting that, so the game is a great opportunity to show it again. We are all the same and that is clear at this club.

“It doesn’t matter, we treat everybody exactly the same regardless of religion, sex or skin colour and that is something we are proud of.”

And, speaking to The Argus newspaper, the club's managing director Ken Brown, who has a previous spell at Millwall, said it was significant that the South London outfit was joining the Seagulls in signing the charter because it showed the considerable strides the Lions have made in recent years to improve their image.

However, in whatever good was being attempted behind the scenes, was quickly put in a depressing context off the pitch.

A host of Brighton fans have reported being on the receiving end of homophobic abuse both before and after the match. And not just the usual soft ignorance. Children being told, in no uncertain terms, that they had HIV and fans chanting, "Aids scum, Aids scum," at groups of Brighton fans seemed the order of the day.

The sad thing is that Millwall as a club HAS tried hard to improve its reputation.

The club is often on the receiving end of bias, sensational tabloid journalism, only too happy to report on a minor incident at the New Den but ignore more significant trouble elsewhere in the league.

One example was when The Sun sent a black journalist to watch a Millwall game (incidentally, also against Brighton). His double-page spread suggested racism was still rife in South Bermondsey but was littered with mistakes and complete cluelessness - including mentioning 1,000 fans making fascist salutes. That would be the 1,000 fans chanting "Seagulls, seagulls."

He then said nobody would sit next to him, hinting at the fact it was because he was black. Obviously it had nothing to do with the rows of empty seats in his stand.

And then, shamefully, he mentioned a disgusting racist banner which was held up. A banner so offensive and amazing tabloid fodder that the photographer he was with didn't take a picture of it. Top work lads.

On that occasion scores of Brighton fans wrote to the newspaper to defend their Millwall counterparts. Only an idiot would suggest Millwall deserve all the mud slung their way by the national press.

However, the fact remains a minority of their supporters do little to help the club.

Brighton fans are every bit as much to blame for the scuffles that broke out last night. And Sussex Police to must take some of the blame for not stepping in to arrest some of the fans so readily hurling homophobic abuse. Too often it seems police at grounds up and down the country are only to happy to turn a blind eye to anti-gay abuse.

Millwall are a great community club, steeped in tradition and with some of the most passionate supporters in football. You only needed to have witnesses supporters chanting "There's only one Kenny Jacket," in the aftermath of their recent 6v0 defeat to Birmingham City to realise that these are fans who appreciate their football, appreciate their team's efforts and appreciate that the game is not all about winning at all costs.

You cannot blame a club for the people who attach themselves to it. Likewise, it would be hugely unfair to tar all Millwall fans with the same brush as those so readily hurling out the homophobia. The majority of Millwall's support base is no different to that of other clubs.

Any Brighton fans wishing ill-will to the Lions on the basis of the behaviour of certain sections of the club's support need to take a look at themselves and remember that the Albion have had their own off-the-field problems over the last couple of seasons - not least violent clashes with sides like Southend and Tottenham.

But the fact remains that, while the behaviour of a handful of away fans was predictable, it was also fairly depressing, coming as it did on a night when both club's were so keen to signal their intent to tackle what remains the last acceptable form of bigotry in sport.

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