It’s a World Cup year and football is on everyone’s lips. Despite the predictably dour pronouncement of six more weeks of winter, I’ve been cleaning out the kit bag and slapping the dirt off my cleats while the season unfolds outside my window. Green shoots will push their way from under the hard-packed dirt of Withrow park again, and when the time comes, I’ll be warmed up.
Turns out, I’m not the only one dreaming of the pitch. Some of you are preparing to take the long flight to South Africa to watch a Cup match in one of the many spanking new stadia that have been erected across the country. My South African friends gloat about the busy building and planning, the hum of industry that is taking place while the country explodes into the throes of summer. I grudgingly follow their status updates, icy fingers poking out from under the perimeter of my Snuggie, consoling myself with the thin comfort that at least I don’t have a sun burn.
It’s no secret that I have fallen in love with this game, that it has become a setting in which to base my personal plot. I have discovered my own effectiveness out in the world by doing what soccer players do: following the ball. I acknowledge that it’s easier to speak glowingly of the game I love than to be critical, but there is a damaging, divisive side that should not go unchallenged. In many parts of the world, girls are still not welcomed to play. And homophobia is still entrenched – a default position enforced through insensitive game chants and song in England and other parts of the world. Happily, I am discovering a movement, a revolution of like-minded soccer activists who are putting their backs into the task of keeping this game beautiful.
During this grey February, Darren Ollerton is also dreaming about the pitch. Darren is the Director of The Justin Campaign, the organization behind the Football v Homophobia Initiative which is designating February 19 as “one day out of each year where fans, players and clubs can express their dissaproval of homophobia in the beautfiul game.”
Recently I caught up with Darren to get the skinny. Excerpts from our interview are below:
KS: Who was Justin Fashanu and why have you chosen to name your campaign after him?
DO: Justin Fashanu was an English footballer who played for quite a variety of clubs between the years 1978 and 1997. His 1981 transfer to Nottingham Forest FC made him the UK’s first million pound black footballer and he was awarded the BBC Goal of the season award in 1980 for an absolutely incredible (incredibly impossible) goal against Liverpool FC. For all of his talent Justin Fashanu is unfortunately chiefly remembered for two things: one, being the first and only out gay professional footballer; and two, for committing suicide.
The Justin Campaign was launched ten years after Fashanu’s suicide. [Since then] his name [has only been] surfacing as a warning to other football players contemplating being more open about their sexuality. We use Justin Fashanu to spearhead our campaign because…he still remains the only out gay professional football player in history [and] we think that demonstrates a significant problem with homophobia in the game.
KS: What is the mission of the Justin Campaign?
DO: The Justin Campaign will continue to Challenge, Involve, Educate and Represent, until the visibility of gay and bisexual players in professional football is accepted and celebrated… Challenge homophobia, stereotypes and misconceptions; Involve all regardless of sexuality, gender, religion, race, disability, ability or background; Educate clubs, coaches, youth, players and fans; and Represent the under-represented in football, Represent the LGBT community.
KS: What is the Football v Homophobia Initiative?
DO: Football v Homophobia is an opportunity to raise awareness of homophobia in amateur and professional football; to unite clubs, players and fans internationally by using the game of football to bring communities together in opposing hate and intolerance in the world’s favourite sport.
It as much a celebration as it is a day of protest, it’s about showing the rest of the world that different communities can enjoy the sport together, It’s about different teams, from different faiths, cultures, backgrounds and creeds, of different gender, race and sexuality. Celebrating our diversity and our individuality but brought together by the common love of football.
KS: How can people – particularly those in North America – get involved in the Initiative?
DO: In so many ways!! Organise a football match or even a tournament with teams in your area! It doesn’t have to be a huge event! Use the Football v Homophobia logo to promote the Initiative! Speak to your local press, local community groups, other sports teams and organisations about Football v Homophobia. Organise a sports pub quiz, inform your local professional soccer clubs and ask them to host the initiatives logo on their website with a message of support. Make a donation to Football v Homophobia or buy one of our badges to ensure the growth of this initiative annually. Check out our website www.thejustincampaign.com and speak to the team who are more than happy to help you develop any ideas you may have about your involvement.
KS: What’s your favourite position?
DO: We are talking about football, aren’t we?
So there you have it – mark your calendars for February 19, and contact your locals leagues to see what they’re doing to support this event. In the meantime, follow the Initiative on Facebook and Twitter.