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Rylan Clark: I was a Junior Hammer but the sad truth is I don’t feel comfortable going to a football match now

TV presenter Rylan Clark, the breakout star of X Factor in 2012 and Celebrity Big Brother in 2013, writes on his experience as a young football fan and how things changed...

by Paddy Power | September 9, 2014

Every single person who walks through the turnstiles at a football match has something to hide or something they’re embarrassed by. They’ve almost certainly done something in their lives that the person sat beside them may not agree with.

How would you feel if you were stood in the middle of a pitch getting abused by homophobic chants or slurs because of you’re sleeping with? You’re on your own, trying to play the sport you love and make a living, but all you get is a tidal wave of hate.

I spent a lot of time in Upton Park when I was a kid. I was a Junior Hammer at one stage and it was a big part of my life. My brother used to take me along and I’ve a lot of great memories of those games.

I still follow football – not to the same extent – but the simple and sad truth is I don’t feel comfortable going to a football match. That’s partially down to being a recognisable face and all that attracts, but it can be intimidating for someone who dresses a bit differently, speaks a certain way or stands out from the crowd. That’s a ridiculous state of affairs in the 21st century.

Homophobia on the terraces

Sports crowd are always incredibly vocal and that will never change. The fans shout out whatever they want and it’s evident that both homophobia and racism are still very present on the terraces. When you’re younger and you’re part of a group you just see it was a bit of a laugh, but once you step away from it, you can see how offensive it can be. Some of the stuff that’s shouted out as just a typical chant is incredibly hate-filled and inappropriate.

The slight positive is that it’s a result of group mentality. These people are perfectly decent people away from the crowd and if you were to talk to them one to one. They’re accountants, chefs, mechanics – whatever it is really – and they’re reasonable people, but at football matches, there’s a persistent peer pressure to conform with what the group is doing and saying.

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Everyone’s there to support their team so it only takes one person to say something and it spreads like a virus and everyone jumps on board like it’s a unified decision. If you were to talk to some of these people afterwards and confront them about what they were saying, they probably wouldn’t realise how venomous it is, but it’s hurtful. I’ve been in situations when someone has told a racist or homophobic joke and I’ve laughed just simply because of the pressure to conform. I’m not racist or homophobic, but I have laughed – so what does that make me?

The fans who do this need to realise that the players they’re shouting at are there to do a job on the pitch. Whether they players are gay, straight, black or white, they’re there to do the job that you’ve paid to see them do. What’s their sexual preference got to do with anything?

The right lace, the right time…

Things won’t change in a hurry, but Rainbow Laces is a start and hopefully it will lead to something brighter and better in the future. People will see that laces, realise it’s for anti-homophobia, say ‘what a great idea’ and then forget about it five minutes later. We need to change attitudes over the long term and the Rainbow Laces campaign is a start, not the final destination. Football is a great place to start.

I experienced a lot of homophobic comments growing up and I still do to a lesser extent. Being in the business I’m in, my skin as got a hell of a lot thicker. I’ve heard pretty much every put-down going and it’s all bollocks. Now I don’t care. Sometimes it can wind me up and get me upset, but then I think ‘if you shouting out something about my sexuality cheers you up and makes you happier for a few seconds – then I’m happy for you’. I’m able for it. Good luck to you – go back to your 16 kids with 12 different women!

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There has been huge progress over the years. I get less abuse now than I did a few years ago. Attitudes are slowly changing in wider society. More needs to change because we’re still well short of an ideal situation. For example, the police apparently class racism and homophobia on the same level as racism. But if I was black and a group of lads were hurling racist abuse at me, the police would be there straightaway and the people banged up for racism. If I’m in the same situation and I start getting homophobic abuse, nothing would be done. To me, they’re on a par. You can’t choose your skin colour just like you can’t choose your sexuality, but as far as I can see, racism is taken seriously while homophobia isn’t.

I didn’t choose to be gay. Why would anyone choose to be part of a minority and be victimized by people who just don’t understand your lifestyle? How would you feel if straight was the new gay? What if they roles were reversed and being gay was considered the norm and being straight was to be abnormal? Imagine getting abuse for just holding hands with your wife – how would that make you feel? You’d be furious. You’d say ‘who the fuck are you to talk about me?’ That’s what gay people encounter every single day. It’s sad, but sadly we’re used to it.

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Myself and my boyfriend Dan (above) want to get married and start a family together. If anyone has a problem with that, I’d say ‘screw yourself and worry about your own life’. I don’t understand the opposition to it. You see all these kids being taken into care and being brought by delinquent straight parents. The message is: ‘It’s ok for a straight couple who don’t have the money or interest in raising a child properly to have kids, but if you’re gay and you can provide the emotional and financial support that’s required, you can get stuffed.’ That’s mind-bendingly stupid.

Rainbow Laces won’t change things overnight. It may not change things over a decade, but it’s a step in the right the direction and it’s a step that’s long overdue. I’m proud to support Stonewall, the Gay Football Supporters’ Network and Paddy Power in this campaign. It only takes two minutes to make a change.

Rainbow Laces 2014

  • Tweet your support for #RainbowLaces. Tweet players, clubs or your pals to encourage them to show we’ve got the balls to change the game.
  • How to get Rainbow Laces: You can get Rainbow Laces at any Paddy Power Shop (shop locator here) or via Stonewall here

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