Arsenal ‘Gay Gooners’: Biggest LGBT football supporters club in the world
- Credit: Archant
Football is still prejudiced against LGBT people. But Arsenal’s huge Gay Gooners fan club is fighting this. The Gazette speaks to chairman Dave Raval.
In 1977, Archway-born Laurie Cunningham became the first black footballer to play for England under-21s.
Forty years later, Islington is again part of the fight for equality in the game.
Arsenal’s Gay Gooners supporters club is today the biggest LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, trans) football fans group in the world. There are 500 members, with 40 per cent women.
Dave Raval is chairman, and was one of the founding members in 2013.
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Gay Gooners has three simple objectives: stamp out homophobia in football, provide a safe forum for LGBT people to enjoy Arsenal, and act as a social group – just like any other fans’ organisation.
Dave, 36, of Hackney, says: “Gays, lesbians and transgender people have been following football forever.
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“The recent question has always been: ‘When is a male player going to come out?’ [Players have come out in women’s football.] But when we started Gay Gooners, our question was: ‘When are the fans going to come out?’
“It’s just as important for LGBT fans to be visible in the game. There are hundreds of us. We don’t accept what some people would call ‘banter.’ We don’t accept a football culture where a male player has yet to come out.”
Gay Gooners was the first LGBT fans group to be recognised by a professional club, as Arsenal did. There are now 30 groups in the UK.
And Dave says: “I think we have made progress. If a player went down injured at the Emirates, and someone screams racist abuse, then they would be chucked out by the stewards, for sure. We want to get the same respect for LGBT people.
“The key thing is to get to the point where fans wouldn’t accept that either, just like they wouldn’t accept racist abuse. It’s getting there, and starting to get to the point where it polices itself, but we’re not there yet.
“I think there is still a long way to go. We are on the same path as when the anti-racism campaigns began 20 or 30 years ago. Arsenal is ahead, but you still hear homophobic chanting at other grounds in the country. You will still see stewards who haven’t been trained to deal with it.”
But Dave also stresses: “We’re not just about serious campaigning. We are all Arsenal fans who love football. The Gay Gooners meet up before the games and enjoy a beer – like thousands of other fans.”