Skip navigation

LGBT-inclusive Chair: 'I’m a football fan - the fact I’m gay is irrelevant'

Features

As part of the Rainbow Laces campaign, we spoke with Will Oster, Chair of the LGBT+-inclusive club London Falcons. The below interview was initially published in the Crystal Palace v Aston Villa matchday programme.

Younger readers should be aware of offensive terms in the following piece which have not been redacted.

Will Oster and his London Falcons teammates want to be seen as a success. They don’t trump – indeed, they actively discourage – the go-to line of football’s hostility to its LGBT+ members, or how a shared story of abuse and discrimination has moulded thick-skinned communities.

Those realities are very much experienced by LGBT+ supporters and players across the country. But they’re not what Oster wants to dwell on. Instead, he focuses on the club he chairs which was promoted in the 2019 Wimbledon and District League and holds three Gay Football Supporters Network National League and four London Unity League titles.

He discusses a team of players and friends who are both LGBT+ and not, but all who have a passion for football, and he explains the history of a side which provided its members a safe and enjoyable place to play without discrimination.

“We launched in 2006 as a team for mainly gay and bisexual men who perhaps felt they had fallen out of love with the game,” says Will, a teacher who today lives in Wandsworth. “They couldn’t maybe get as involved in football as they once wanted to due to a variety of reasons.

“It could be a sense that they’d gone to football games and had experienced things that put them off watching. It could have been playing in matches where they saw homophobic behaviour on the pitch and maybe seen people on their team not stand up.

“They’d see teams and hear the odd homophobic comment or what’s commonly named as ‘banter’. You just think: ‘I love football and came here wanting to play football, not to feel as if I’m in any way different. I’m just another person who likes to play.’

“That’s really what we wanted to do, to create a place where we are a group of people who love football… we just also happen to be a group of largely gay and bisexual men.”

London Falcons began playing teams in the London Unity league and Gay Football Supporters Network, where they enjoyed success. Today they play in Raynes Park, seven miles from Selhurst, and train near Clapham, a similar distance from SE25. In 2018 they joined the Wimbledon and District League, a ‘mainstream’ competition rather than one which is explicitly LGBT+-inclusive.

This move caused some concern about exposing the team to abuse, but Will says the transition has been “overwhelmingly positive in terms of inclusion, acceptance and visibility.”

They’ve had one incident of homophobic abuse in three years, but beyond London Falcons Will says LGBT+ players still feel discomfort in ‘mainstream’ sides.

“I do feel sadly there does still exist a culture within football of some sort of ‘other’ or difference between straight and gay footballers.

“We all know from experience in this team that so many young men just have this idea there is a toxicity about football, a negative dressing room ‘banter’.

“It’s the sort of comments made on the sly or the banter that gets thrown around, like: ‘He’s gone down like a fairy,’ or you hear ‘poofter’ and ‘bender’ and that sort of stuff.

“It might just be ignorance, something they’re used to saying growing up and they’re not homophobic – but it makes you feel uncomfortable.

“You just want to play football and suddenly misplace a pass or do something wrong and you think: ‘Are they going to think that’s ‘because I’m a bender’? It’s when you hear those words flying around, you think: ‘If I were to come out in this team, would I be treated differently?’”

Again, though, Will returns to a positive message: he thinks football, or society more generally, has a long way to go in combatting discrimination, intolerance and ignorance, but he knows change is taking place, and that, with London Falcons, he’s found a home.

He’s passionate and serious about this topic and speaks with a tangible verve. But there’s an uplifting undercurrent to everything he says.

“There is a reason we all come every Saturday and train in the rain in November and it’s because we love it. This is our game. We are all football fans first and we love football and if we can go out and compete it should hopefully counter the stereotypes that still exist.

“There’s been a complete coincidence with [me] enjoying football [again] and joining Falcons… There’s nothing better than going out and playing a game of football and for years I thought maybe I’m not ever going to be able to do it again because I don’t feel safe or welcomed. Here I have a club where I’m supported.

“I’m just a football fan. The fact that I’m gay is irrelevant, I’m just a football fan… We want to show that there is a place for LGBT+ footballers and that you can play the game you love, regardless of who you love.”

Will stops short, enthusiastic but sincere. He then adds, with a laugh: “There’s a soundbite if you want one.” Positive through and through.

Find out more about London Falcons by heading to their website here or to @londonfalcons on Instagram or Twitter.

Images: @londonfalcons on Instagram