musclemary meets - United With Pride

musclemary meets - United With Pride

Musclemary meets – United With Pride

Interview with Ian Pearson-Brown, President of United with Pride, an LGBTQ+ community of Newcastle United F.C. supporters.

 

“Football without fans is nothing.” An opinion originally put forward by the late Jock Stein and quoted on multiple occasions since. Stein’s opinion was proven correct as national lockdowns resulted in soulless stadiums with fans relegated to watching their teams from afar. The eerie lack of atmosphere underlined that football is referred to as the beautiful game because of the connections made, the experiences shared, and the almost tribal sense of community felt between supporters of the same club. Not simply the action on the field.

For many fans, football is a way of life and the club they align themselves to plays a prominent part of their social identity. Although a simplistic definition of a supporter “is a person who is actively interested in and wishes success for a particular football team”, there is significant variability in the level of affinity an individual has for their team. Ranging from casual supporters who have a passing interest in a teams result to those who dedicate their life to following their team and whose emotions are tied to the success the club.

However, when reading the definition of what a supporter is, it is clear there is no reference to the religion, identity or sexual orientation of the person. Therefore, why is it that many in minority groups feel that they can’t be their authentic self to feel an equal part of the club they support or further they avoid attending altogether.

This was an experienced lived by Ian Pearson-Brown, co-chair of United with Pride, a recently created LGBTQ+ community of Newcastle United F.C. supporters. Ian, a Newcastle fan from the age of 9 (now 39) reflects how,

“As a kid I was sport obsessed and Newcastle mad. Just like so many other young boys in the area I loved going to the games, experiencing the thrill of a goal scored and soaking up the atmosphere after a Newcastle win.”

However, Ian’s sexuality meant that he didn’t feel that he could fully be himself within such settings. A toxic atmosphere, admittedly more present in years gone by but still sadly present, promoted an alpha male culture where homophobic chants and slurs directed at both opponents and officials were commonplace. Often, grotesquely referred to as a ‘mans game’ the old-school culture of football both inside the dressing room and on the terraces has often left those in minority groups to suffer feelings of isolation and withdrawal. Experiences amplified by a lack of role models within the game for minority groups to take inspiration from.   Ian goes on to say how,

“I had a choice, to continue both playing sport and being part of the Newcastle fanbase or come out as gay, be my authentic self and deal with stigmas and labels that would follow.” It’s uncomfortable to hear his words and difficult to appreciate the magnitude of how many people have suffered from the same experiences. Until the age of 28 he kept his sexuality hidden. Thankfully, with the support of his husband, he now feels comfortable talking about his experiences.

It is both moving and humbling to listen to Ian’s story. It is also inspiring to learn how he has channelled negative experiences to create positive change for those in similar situations and cultivate an environment where younger generations will not be subjected to experiences he was. After hearing a particularly homophobic tirade of abuse from a fellow Newcastle supporter Ian, frustrated at himself for not calling out the behaviour, notified the club of his experience and advised that change needed to happen. It was from this point on that United With Pride began to take ownership of creating both a safe space for LGBTQ+ Newcastle supporters and using their platform to both educate and raise awareness of both what constitutes abuse and call it out when it occurs.

With the club’s support and through their umbrella branding of United As One, an initiative to promote inclusion, equality and diversity at the club a collective effort has been taken to tackle prejudice in all forms. The community now boasts over 2,500 followers on twitters and offers educational support to those in need and a safe place for members to attend matches, socialise and get together.

The community experience of those who are part of the group underlines what football should be. A fully inclusive environment encompassing of all identities and sexualities where individuals are free to be their authentic self without fear of judgement or stigma. No longer forced to face a decision between conforming to an archaic stereotype or being fully themselves. A place to meet people, attend games together and debate the important aspects of the game itself.

It is only through the work that groups such as United With Pride and many others across the football spectrum do that the beautiful game will ever truly be able to live up to its title As the Beautiful Game. However, with the widespread condemnation of homophobic chants at a recent premier league game, the work done through Football Vs Homophobia and the rainbow laces campaign, there is signs that we are moving on from the dark days both in society and in football. A recent quote from England manager Gareth Southgate stated how those who hold outdated prejudices “are going to be dinosaurs in the end, because the word is modernising” is evidence that things are changing. We can only hope that things continue to progress but with people like Ian, and groups like United With Pride I am confident they will.

 

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