HOW IT FEELS TO HEAR AND REPORT ABUSE
For the third time, I've witnessed homophobic abuse being directed at opposition players and/or fans by people supporting Solihull Moors. This isn't a nice thing to write, and it isn't something I want to write. What is important to me is making people understand how it feels to be in the position of witnessing and reporting it. Trust me, nothing about it feels good, and it's not something anyone would do if they didn't have to.
A bit of full disclosure before I begin. PsychoMouse and I have been watching the Moors since the merger happened in 2007. PM is straight and married to a potentially fictional woman (I have only met her once in all these years, and even then I'm not sure I can actually remember her face), and I never really talked about my sexuality at the football, because it isn't relevant. It was only after witnessing some particularly disgusting, sustained homophobic abuse of an opposition fan (for the crime of being a gobby man in a pink shirt) from Moors fans away at Notts County that I "outed" myself on the forum to talk about just how bad it was and why. Even then, I felt guilty that I couldn't really give a straight answer (no pun intended). I've been attracted to women and had relationships with women in the past, but I've also always been attracted to males, too. The best label I could give anyone is probably the catch-all "queer". Not that it matters. It doesn't. Or at least, it shouldn't.
I privately reported the first instance of homophobic chanting to the club in spring 2019, when there was some real old-school homophobia being levelled at the Salford City goalkeeper from the away end during the second half. Unchecked and unchallenged homophobia that then escalated to stuff about him being a paedophile and abusing boys. I can't tell you how uncomfortable that made me feel, though speaking to a friend of my cousin the following day (whom I hadn't realised was a Moors fan) who is straight, he said he'd even left early because of it. I wrote it off as it not being 'real' fans, since it was a bumper turn out of day-trippers with Blues and Villa playing each other the following day. That's of course the worst thing you can do as a supporter, because of course they're all 'real'. They're there representing our club, whether it's their first game or their thousandth.
My first reaction again on Saturday was denial. It started with quite young-sounding boys somewhere to my left shouting 'gay' this and that at Nathan Ashmore, the Boreham Wood goalkeeper. I thought perhaps I'd misheard, so I kept my ear out in the hope of being proven wrong. After all, in one of my various forays into school teaching, I'd once gently admonished a Year 8 boy with, "come on, mate; don't say things like that," only for him to sheepishly tell me he'd in fact been shouting "Kane!". Sure enough, the next time I heard those boys, they were shouting something different. Eventually, though, I heard them again, clear as day, calling the goalkeeper a gay something or other. I was going to go find and have a friendly chat with them about why that isn't a good thing to do, but evidently another adult had heard them, too. He decided to take things a long, long way past any sort of line by shouting in agreement that Ashmore was a "fucking f****t". I hate censoring writing, but I don't want to give his opinion further open repetition and I think it's clear to anyone who has heard the term before what it was that he said.
I got the same, cold, sinking, empty feeling I had felt at Salford City and Notts County, but this time it was worse because it was in a (relatively, given it was Boreham Wood at home and some regulars are self-isolating) crowded home stand. There's a brilliant description of the feeling of a panic attack by Frightened Rabbit, in their song "Floating in the Forth": the door shut shut // I was vacuum-packed // shrink-wrapped out of air. It's that sort of feeling of total, consuming dread. And betrayal. It's hard to believe, and to take, that someone within your own tribe is there using language that belittles and dehumanises you, whether it's directed at you or someone else.
I reacted with adrenaline-stoked fury. I shouted, "hey, enough of that!" The Bard, beside me, asked what had been said, and rolled his eyes with frustration and said something like, "oh, nice one, bloody idiots." Then I had another pang of fury and shouted back in the direction of the offenders again, "fucking unacceptable!" Then I took a quick look around. Things had momentarily gone quiet. There were quite a few faces, familiar and unfamiliar to me, who continued staring at the pitch, probably having heard everything that went on.
That's when the guilt kicks in. You've singled yourself out. You've ruined the fun and the atmosphere. Your team are 3-1 up and battering a good side, goddamnit. It shouldn't be like this. But of course, none of that is actually my fault. Intellectually, I know this. The people using inflammatory, bigoted language are to blame. But still, emotionally, you're a mix of adrenaline, guilt, and a nervous sense of vulnerability. You've singled yourself out. Revealed something about yourself. What if someone else says something? Is it right to stick around for a drink after the game; will someone react then? Is it right to talk about it with others from different sections of the ground? To publicise it online? Won't that just get on even more peoples' nerves? It's a good first home win of the season. People want to be celebrating.
The sense of guilt and alienation doesn't go away easily. You're not even a real gay, for fuck's sake. Why did you have to react? Maybe it's your own fault; if you stood astride the terraces grinning and giggling like Joe Lycett, maybe people would know to mind their behaviour. These thoughts are, of course, ridiculous. People shouldn't behave that way full stop, regardless of whether they know there's an LGBTQ+ person in their presence or not. And Lycett isn't a real gay either; he's pansexual. You've given the club something stupid to deal with on Twitter and in terms of an internal investigation, too, and you can't even provide any evidence. And you're referring to yourself as you, because the raw emotion of the whole thing is making you dissociate. On social media, well-meaning Moors fans take turns to comment that they didn't hear anything. I don't know why they think this is helpful or what anyone would want to hear. One is annoyed that I've said that it isn't helpful and makes it seem like I'm not believed.
It's a mess, and I feel, bad, bad, bad. It was my mom's birthday the previous week, and we're going out on Saturday night because my brother had COVID on the day itself. And I'm embroiled in some toss about a bloke and some kids using nasty language, and distracted and snapping at people. And I didn't even report it to a steward at the time. I just annoyed people on Twitter, who probably took it as attention-seeking or some political statement that I'm easily offended because I don't like hearing abuse directed at people of my sexuality. Well, nobody does this for fun. It sure as hell isn't fun. It's horrible, and disheartening, and tiresome, and makes you feel like a burden on pretty much everyone.
So, please: don't use bigoted language. It might be just words, "banter" to you, but the meaning and weight that those words carry, and the burden of trying to stand up to them, are deeply troubling and troublesome to people on your side, just wanting to watch the match like they always have. And always will.
Hungover on Sunday afternoon, I had a quick look at the Sunday papers. A Labour MP who regularly shares transphobic and homophobic authors and content on her Twitter has said that she won't go to the party conference because she "wouldn't want it to be all about her". It's reported as if she's staying away because she's in danger from nasty queer activists. A quick check of Facebook reveals a post from my old Oxford college student union warning queer students to stay safe and offering support to anyone who witnessed a violently queerphobic altercation outside the city's only gay club this weekend. Just give us a break. Give us a fucking break. World, I'm sorry that the fact that my good-friend-with-benefits has a penis causes so much personal trouble for you.
A note on Nathan Ashmore: Due to his appearance, and the fact that he's a good goalie who plays with attitude, and (immaturely enough) because the Boreham Wood goalkeeper kit is bright pink, the guy is a magnet for bigoted abuse. Everywhere he goes, he gets racism and queerphobia, whether it's the old-school racism of mocking natural Afro hair, or suggesting he's transgender, or calling him "Venus Williams", or plain old homophobic slurs. Grow the fuck up, people. If you're doing this, don't. Not again. He made enough mistakes on Saturday (uncharacteristically) that there was no shortage of other material to give him stick with. Why do you have to make it about his race or his presumed gender and sexuality?
Yours curmudgeonly, forever and always,
PS: Solihull Moors as a club have been brilliant on this, every time. The idiots who can't go to a football match without abusing someone's presumed sexuality or race are no reflection on the great community efforts of this football club.