“I knew instantly that the football world and being gay just sort of clashed. I gave up the game due to homophobia a couple of years ago.”
London Titans FC are out on the pitch tackling the heteronormative grounds that football has grown from. Kicking off its promotion of not only the team and the players themselves, but the very possibility of gay footballers, is the BBC web documentary, We Are Gay And We Love Football Too.
Based in SW London, and drawing players from across the capital, London Titans FC is an amateur LGBT football club that provides a safe, fun and competitive place to play football and get involved with a diverse group of like-minded players. The club’s first team competes in the FA affiliated Middlesex County FA Saturday league, alongside entering teams into several LGBT leagues.
Focusing on a group of young footballers, the documentary navigates hetero-masculine ‘lad culture’ and how the Titans orient and locate their love of the game in these normative conditions. One aspect is banter.
For gay footballers, banter becomes a tactic and function of homophobia, like the notorious “Brighton take it up the bum” chant by Crystal Palace fans. The booming voices of blokes both on the stands and in the locker rooms can make the thought of coming out a choice between invisibility and safety, or visibility and potential violence.
But the Titans are out to change that. The documentary sets the boys against a straight team that holds reservations to include LGBT folk in the game. Addressing in this post-Justin Fashanu moment what being gay in football today signifies. By looking at the language of banter, the documentary aims to narrate the harm that banter can cause to young footballers.
As football spheres treat non-heterosexual identities as deviant, visibility is a powerful act. The Titans’ newest recruit, Tom, quit playing football after homophobic encounters. Roping in FIFA’s recent decision to ban homophobia on the pitch, banter blurs the lines of detached humour and abuse. By platforming both the Titans and ‘The Lads’ (the straight team), the documentary articulates the symbiotic relationship between gay footballers coming out publically, and for straight footballers to offer understanding.
Tom, like many other players, struggles to reconcile his interior identity with his exterior love of the game. Whilst I was hiding behind the trampolines with the girls gossiping, I can’t help but wonder if there were any Tom-types in my P.E class. Stuck between being who they are and playing what they love.