Back in late 2017, a group of LGBTQ West Bromwich Albion Football Club supporters came together to form Proud Baggies, a supporters group whose mission is to ‘bring the football and
LGBT+ communities together to celebrate diversity and increase LGBT+ visibility at West Bromwich Albion FC’. February is Football v Homophobia Month of Action, so we checked in with Piero Zizzi, David Price and Steve Price of Proud Baggies to talk about the group and discuss homophobia in football...
Proud Baggies was set up by the group’s Chair, Piero Zizzi, back in 2017. Since its inception, it’s been nominated for numerous awards for the work that it’s done.
Piero comes from a sports background, works in the sports industry, and has had his own struggles: “I came out to my friends and family at the age of 18, but I didn’t come out to my peers in the football industry until I was 25. The football industry is very macho and predominantly a very ‘straight white male’-orientated industry.
“I joined the committee of Pride In Football, which is an umbrella group of LGBT+ supporters groups. When I joined, there were about 20 LGBT supporters groups; now there’s about 40. I found inspiration from these groups and realised there must be other LGBT+ Baggies supporters. I felt that a group like Proud Baggies was something our club needed.”
“Piero is like Steve and myself,” says David, the group’s treasurer, “a lifelong West Bromwich Albion supporter. It was difficult for me to come to matches as a gay person. I have one other friend who’s gay and supports the Albion. I’ve known him for about 20 years, but he lives in London, so I don’t get to meet up with him at matches very often. That’s where Proud Baggies comes in.
“There are a lot of LGBT people who support West Bromwich Albion, and this group has brought us all together. It’s raising the profile of LGBT people in the game, and the football club have also been incredibly supportive and proud of what we’ve achieved.”
Picture: Steve Price, Piero Zizzi, David Price (left to right).
Proud Baggies is one of the leading LGBT+ football fan groups in the country - no mean feat when you compare the size of West Bromwich Albion to large clubs like Tottenham Hotspur (whose LGBT+ group is called Proud Lilywhites).
“Proud Baggies is all about inclusion. The club supports this and wants everyone to feel welcome. We’re focusing on helping LGBT+ people feel included in football, while at the same time countering prejudice and discrimination. Sadly, we still have to challenge it because it still happens. It’s not just homophobic words that you hear; you sometimes - rarely but sometimes - hear racism and anti-semitism.
“Football is a very emotional game and a lot of people tend to leave their best behaviour behind. Everyone wants their team to win, and in the heat of the moment, people say things they don’t mean. If a player isn’t performing to his best, you may hear someone shout out, ‘You fucking poofter’ for example, and that’s something that needs to be challenged.LGBT+ people should be able to come to football matches without hearing that sort of thing said.”
Tackling homophobia at both a club level and a supporters level is something that’s a top priority for Proud Baggies.
“One of our main objectives for the group was to have visibility,” Piero explains. “A big thing this season was to have a Proud Baggies flag in the stands. It’s there for everyone to see, to say that LGBT people are coming to the match and are welcome at the club.
“The club have been very supportive by putting out messages and signage to say that homophobia and other forms of discrimination won’t be tolerated, and that sanctions will be put in place.”
Kick It Out, a group that deals with abuse of all kinds in football, has released figures saying that homophobia in the game has increased by nine per cent. “I’m not sure whether that means homophobia is growing or people are just more comfortable in reporting it because of the rise of LGBT+ visibility and supporters groups,” says Piero.
Jake Livermore - West Bromwich Albion F.C Captain
When Proud Baggies was first launched back in 2017, the reaction from West Bromwich Albion supporters was largely positive. There were, however, a few negative remarks, predominantly on Facebook: “We learned quickly that we were going to get some negative feedback,” says Piero. “But on the flip side, there was self-policing from our own fans, reminding those who’d written the negative comments that West Bromwich Albion as a club has a history of great diversity.
“The Baggies had three of the first black players in British football. This club has broken down barriers for so many years, and we’re proud that they’re still doing it now, especially with the LGBT+ community.”
Proud Baggies features a diverse group of members: “It’s fun!” says Steve. “There’s a great group of people, and we talk about anything. Obviously, we support Albion first and foremost, but the topic of conversation can very quickly flick from football to gay icons. It really is that diverse and funny.”
Each year, LGBT+ charity Stonewall works with football clubs across the UK to promote LGBT+ inclusion in the game via their Rainbow Laces campaign - and West Bromwich Albion went all out with their fixture against Brentford on Monday 3 December, a match that finished one-all.
Players warmed up on the pitch in Proud Baggies t-shirts and wore rainbow laces in their boots. Rainbow flags were displayed on the stadium's giant screens, and even club mascots Baggie Bird and Boiler Man got involved.
So is the football industry as a whole missing any tricks? Is there more that could be done?
“I think it’s definitely moving in the right direction,” says Piero. “The rise of LGBT supporters groups alone proves that there’s been a big shift over the last few years.”
And big campaigns such as Rainbow Laces and Football v Homophobia further improve the LGBT+ community’s visibility in football.
“It’s definitely making things easier, and it’s continuing to improve. We still don’t have an ‘out’ elite male footballer, but I think it’s coming.
I just think we need the right support network in place. There will be gay footballers out there, and if they’re out there playing, look to the stands and see their club has an LGBT+ supporters group and there’s a rainbow flag flying, then that’s going to help give them the courage to be themselves.”
For more information about Proud Baggies, visit their website, proudbaggies.com
For more information about this month’s Football v Homophobia Month of Action - a campaign that exists to challenge discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression at all levels in football - visit footballvhomophobia.com
If you experience any form of discrimination at a football match, report it at kickitout.org or to the club itself.
Macclesfield Town F.C. manager Sol Campbell speaks out on homophobia HERE
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