Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Football as a positive force

On the Arsecast a couple of weeks ago, I spoke to Dave Seager, who has written a book called ‘Arsenal for Everyone’, in which he tells the stories of fans for whom the Arsenal experience is different than for most of us.

Fans who are blind, fans who have disabilities, for example, and the way the club works hard to make their match-day/supporting experience as good as it can be. Yesterday, a lovely thread emerged, an Arsenal fan whose son with autism found the noise of the Emirates overwhelming on his first visit. So much so, he had to leave during the first half. This thread explains what happened next (click through):

We all have our frustrations with the club, as most football fans do with the one they support, but sometimes it’s good to reminded that there’s a lot to admire about what we do. The club isn’t just a thing owned by the Kroenkes, it’s a part of the community, it does amazing work in so many ways, but so often it’s small things which don’t really resonate with the wider fan-base. They happen outside of our sphere of existence, but remain no less important or admirable because of that.

The sensory room, which launched in 2017, is certainly one of them, and for that young Gooner, it helped his first Arsenal game become an experience he’ll never forget. Not just because of the win (that helps, obviously), but because Arsenal and his dad looked after him in a way that reminds us of just how important and how positive football can be.

There so much bitterness and anger all the time, about almost everything these days, I’ve stopped watching the news. I just can’t take it anymore, to be honest. However, stories like this make my heart sing a bit. We only have one go around, you know, and I love how something which might have been a genuinely difficult experience for that young fan, and his family, became something so lovely and so newsworthy. Well done to all involved.

Similarly, a lovely story from Australia, when Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo announced that he was gay:

It seems crazy that in this day and age a footballer coming out should feel like such a big story, but it is. Not because Josh is gay, but because he’s gay and a footballer. It’s a barrier that remains within the game. The culture of the sport remains a substantial obstacle for the many gay players who are professionals, playing in teams we support, players we know and love and admire.

That is the reality. There are gay players who can’t come out because of fear, and I don’t presume to understand fully how exactly those fears manifest themselves. Whether it’s chants from the terraces, concerns about acceptance in the dressing room, or whether they feel like their career prospects might be damaged – let’s also be realistic and acknowledge there will be opposition, those within the game who might choose a different player to play or a different player to buy because of their own prejudices. It’s understandable, but it’s also a shame that in this day and age, people can’t be who they are because of the sport they’re good at. Better at it that 99.99% of the population, by the way.

Josh Cavallo isn’t exactly a household name – well, he is now in fairness –  but it’s got to start somewhere, and it’s been lovely to see the huge support he has received from across the football world. From players, pundits, fans, and ordinary, decent people who understand that a person’s sexuality is just part and parcel of who they are. Of course there has been push-back from the depths of the online world, but he’ll have expected that too and we shouldn’t pay much attention to those who discriminate because of who somebody loves. It’s a pernicious kind of hate.

The important thing is that he has chipped away a little at something which needs to be demolished. It won’t happen overnight, but hopefully his honesty will help other players if they feel like they’re having to live in a way which isn’t true to who they are. I don’t know when it might happen in England, whether in the Premier League or elsewhere, but as and when it does, those players should know that for any possible opposition, there’s going to be far more support from the football community than they could ever know.

Right, I’m going to leave it there for this morning. I mentioned the Arsecast with Dave, you can check it out here – the interview with him begins at the 50’55 mark, and you can find out more about his book here.

Back tomorrow with more, including an Arsecast which features an interview with genuine Arsenal legend. Until then.


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