Whitehawk might seem an unlikely place for a football revolution, but strange things have been happening down Wilson Avenue. Andy Davies reports
It’s difficult because those first few that come out will be seized upon and they would be seen as trailblazers for the next generation, and it shouldn’t be the case. They should just be accepted as professional footballers and be known for that rather than for their sexuality.”
Kevin Miller, vice chairman of Whitehawk FC, is talking about the last great taboo in the biggest sport in the world.
Whitehawk might not seem the obvious place to fight racism, sexism and homophobia, but Whitehawk FC has been confounding preconceptions for quite some time. Founded in 1945, the club has, in recent years, been heavily praised for its attempts to tackle homophobia in football. The steps leading up into the stands are painted “Love”, “Peace”, “No Racism”, “No Sexism”, “No Violence”, “No Homophobia”. Above the coach’s dugouts hangs a huge rainbow flag. The work done by the club has gained backing from sponsor Utilita Energy, Football Supporters Association and anti-racism organisation Kick it Out amongst many. “I think it’s a testament to the work we’ve done in the past that’s given us the opportunity to call upon the football opportunities and get approval. Some of the work that we’ve been doing over the last three or four years with inclusion, diversity and certainly with the LGBT community, it’s given us a bit more credibility.
Earlier this year, Whitehawk launched an initiative “Football vs Homophobia” (the inaugural match was due to be played on February 19th but was called off due to Storm Eunice). “One of the key reasons Utilita are sponsoring us is because of the work we were doing with Rainbow Rovers (Whitehawk’s affiliated LGBTQ+ team).
“Rainbow Rovers side was set up by Sophie Cook and she approached me with Guy Butters, an ex-Brighton and Tottenham player. They wanted to put forward a charity match between an LGBT team and a Premier League all-star team. We said ‘Why don’t we do it at Whitehawk because it’s got the reputation’. We kind of went from there. It went down well with the fans, as they’re inclusive and very welcoming.
“Utilita noticed what we were doing. Our first Rainbow Rovers game was in 2019 and we played a team of ex-Premier League all-stars and we managed to get Sky Sports to cover the whole game. I think Utilita realised because the city we were in and the free-thinking attitude Brighton has, it gives us the opportunity to be more expressive.
“When we launched it, we thought it would be a great opportunity to highlight LGBT issues in football and what better place to do it than a very progressive place like Brighton.”
A progressive place like Brighton hasn’t always opened its arms to Whitehawk which has often been perceived as being outside of the “cool, progressive” side of Brighton. “It’s had a reputation in the past. The Whitehawk estate, 15 to 20 years ago, was one of the most deprived in Europe. There was a disconnect between its local club and the community and we’ve tried really hard to re-establish that connection. “We recognise that those people might not be into football, but they may be into the occasion of being part of Whitehawk fanbase. When they come in, they can pick up a drum, sing ‘Homophobia, We Say No’, have a laugh, drink a beer.”
In October 2021, Australian A-League player Josh Cavallo became the first active professional player to come out as gay. It is surely no secret that there are some gay or bisexual players in the Premier League. Former Manchester United left back Patrice Evra has claimed that there are at least two gay players at every Premier League club.
With the fight against homophobia in men’s football, did Kevin think it would be long before we see an active Premier League player come out as gay? “If you look at the women’s game, it is accepted. It’s been known for years and no one bats an eyelid. Because of the vastness of the sport across the world, it’s going to be highlighted.
It should be a day where every gay person at every football club across the world comes out. The press wouldn’t know where to focus their attention and would make a massive global statement. That’s the point we want to get to, where people say ‘So what?’”