Leicester City fans have been severely criticised over the past few days over a series of homophobic chants directed towards Brighton and Hove Albion supporters during a Premier League encounter between the two clubs.
Two Leicester fans have been arrested following the incident and the Football Association are considering charging the club due to the disgusting nature of their so-called fans.
In my opinion, only the strongest punishments will suffice. Anyone caught bellowing these sentiments should face severe charges and be banned from football stadia for life.
These simply aren’t ‘banterous’ football songs, they are hate crimes.
Brighton an easy target for homophobia
Brighton is known for its large LGBT community. I had the pleasure of visiting the city in the lead up to the famous Pride festival earlier this summer and I was amazed by how proud everyone was to be involved.
Colourful flags were being raised and sold all over Brighton. Areas dedicated to the festival had been organised and LGBT couples walked the streets free from any prejudices. There was a refreshing burst of, well, pride in the air. It is a pity this cannot be transferred into football.
Perhaps I was too naive but I did not sense anything unusual about this during my few days on the coast. I was not shocked by this celebration of acceptance as I expect this sort of behaviour everywhere.
I have also had the pleasure of not seeing any serious homophobic attacks, physical or verbal. That is, however, until I entered a football stand on one afternoon.
Homophobic abuse at nearly every game
When I owned a season ticket at Watford during the 2013/14 campaign, Brighton came to visit Vicarage Road in early February. The Hornets won 2-0 on the day but lost my respect as the murmurs and occasional offensive chant emerged from the Rookery stand.
I have been to one more Brighton game, when the Seagulls travelled to MK Dons in 2016. While I heard nothing from the fans on this occasion, I was aware going into the game that these chants could be a possibility again.
I was right to think so. The chants at the King Power were not an isolated incident. Kieran Maguire, Brighton fan and Britain’s only openly gay referee, said on national television this week that there is ‘low-level chanting’ at ‘practically every game’.
I have seen social media posts talking about what these Leicester fans have done to damage the reputation of the beautiful game. Well, sorry to inform you, but the game isn’t as beautiful as many make out.
Liz Costa from Brighton & Hove Albion Supporters Club said: “The club [Leicester] needs fining, this has nothing to do with football”. She is exactly right. This is much bigger than football and these incidents, like racism, should be treated as such.
Happens at all levels
Part of what makes football so appealing is that it is essentially the same game from Champions League finals to Sunday League matches. Homophobia is also something carried down through the English football pyramid.
Sean Walsh, a football writer and student, recently wrote a blog post on how he was targeted for wearing rainbow laces during a six-a-side match. Thankfully I have not bared witness to such horrendous acts but the sad thing is that I can see this happening every weekend, every day.
Luke, a lower-league coach, battles against the stigma of being gay while Robbie Rogers, an openly-gay player, has discussed the malicious words spoken by fellow professionals and coaches at the top level.
No place for homophobia in football
Fans of both teams at any game should not have to be subjected to songs such as “Does your boyfriend know you here?” and “We can see you holding hands”.
Graeme Le Saux, pundit and former player, took abuse for years for even being believed to be gay. “Le Saux takes it up the arse” was a common chant whenever the ex-Chelsea captain travelled to away games.
As harrowing as it may be, sometimes these songs get worse. “You’re from a town full of gays and I hope you all die of aids” was sung a few years ago to Brighton supporters. When they travelled to Forest the next season, it took just seven minutes for a homophobic chant to break out in the home end.
A BBC survey showed that 92% of fans would have no problem if one of their team’s players was gay. 8% the other way is too much. Costa said that she heard at least 50 fans singing homophobic songs at Leicester, that’s 99% of fans who abstained. 1% the other way is still too much.
The world has been subject to some awful events in the last couple of years. There have been attacks on places we did not believe could be attacked, accidents that we thought could not occur and abuse towards people that should never be abused.
Football should be a way to escape, not another reminder of just how hate-filled humans can be.