Wilde boys!
Posted on 24 Aug 2018

LGBT+ football club Leicester Wildecats was formed back in 1996 and has been going from strength to strength ever since. The club believes that sexual orientation should not be a barrier to playing sport and provides a safe, non-judgemental environment for LGBT+ people to enjoy playing football...

We talk to Gary Newitt, Leicester Wildecats’ Club Secretary, to find out more about the club, coming out in football and homophobia in sport...

Explain your role within Leicester Wildecats, Gary...
I’m currently on the committee as the club secretary. Previously I’ve been the manager, captain and vice-captain. I’m still playing, but I’ve given up the captaincy to a new, fresh face.

How long have you been playing for the club?
I joined when I was 21 years old, so about 12 years now. I’m part of the fixtures and fittings. I’ve managed for a few years and held various other responsibilities.

Before joining the Wildecats, did you play football for another team?
Not regularly, no. I used to play as a child and then again at university. I had a bit of a gap, but then I wanted to play more often and wanted to meet people of the same sexuality. More than just playing football, I wanted a group I could socialise with too.

What are the aims of a club like the Wildecats?
We aim to provide a safe environment and a place for people of various abilities and sexualities to come together and enjoy a kick-about session. We have the GFSN {Gay Football Supporters' Network} league, so it provides a bit of competitiveness too. There are also good social opportunities and the chance to be a part of the wider community.

Do you think that an LGBT+ football club is still needed nowadays?
Yes, I think it is. It’s needed in the respect that there’s a club there as an option for people to go to. I also play in ‘mainstream’ football. All the lads there know about my sexuality and they’re all fine with it. I personally haven’t had any discrimination when playing mainstream football, but I’m aware of others who have, whether that’s on the pitch or in the changing rooms. They’ve obviously thought that they don’t want to be a part of that, so a club like Leicester Wildecats provides somewhere where they won’t get that discrimination.

What types of people does the club attract?
It varies, really, from a young age like 18 up to our oldest members, who are mid-60s. One of our older guys is 61. He’ll come and play on a Tuesday night, and he’ll go on the same team as an 18-year-old. We also have guys and girls who are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual.

How often do you meet up to train and play?
We have our official training every week on a Tuesday night, held at St Margaret’s Pastures, Leicester, from 7.30pm until 9pm. We have two pitches there. At a recent session we had 37 people, which is pretty good for us, but obviously when it gets a little colder, people get put off. We also have our       11-a-side matches in the GFSN league for our more competitive players. There are also tournaments throughout the year.

How does the social aspect of playing for a team like Leicester Wildecats differ to, say, going out on the scene?
With the Wildecats, it’s generally a 50/50 split between football and socialising. The socialising is a big driving force behind the club, and it’s why a lot of people join us. We’ll play our games on a Saturday, then a lot of the guys from the other team will stay over so we can all go out after the match. We get to go away on trips to places like Cardiff, Bristol and London, try and get as many people there as we can, and make a good weekend of it.

Do the Wildecats interact with the local community?
There’s a presence there, for sure. We make inroads with the local university, as we feel it can be quite a lonely place, and we reach out to those people who would be interested in joining a gay football club. We work closely with the FA, Leicester City Football Club and their LGBT supporters group, Foxes Pride.

Do you still think there’s a lot to be done to combat homophobia in football?
I think there is. It’s a tricky one. We’ve seen and read a lot of articles, usually once a year around the Football v Homophobia Month of Action. It gets brought up by the media across that month, then gets swept under the carpet again. There’s a lot of talk but not a huge amount of action. A lot of clubs are taking on board that there needs to be something done. They’ve teamed up with these community supporters groups, such as Foxes Pride, which does help. But it’s still evident that homophobia in football hasn’t had the funding or attention that racism has. There’s still a long way to go.

Would you say it’s important that footballers come out?
If you talk about role models, then yes, it certainly is important. But for me, my role model’s sexuality is irrelevant. However, statistically there have to be gay footballers playing in the Premier League. My concern is how the media would spin a gay footballer, and I think that’s probably why nobody has come out yet.

Do you think an out professional footballer would cause an increase in homophobia in football?
I don’t think it would increase. I think it would bring more attention to that particular footballer and to his club, but in the wrong kind of way. I haven’t experienced homophobia at matches that I’ve watched, but obviously it happens. You get a lot at Brighton obviously, as a popular gay destination. It only takes a small group of fans to get on a bandwagon and start up a chant. Whether they think that chant is banter or not, it might have an effect on the player who’s being singled out, the club and the fans.

What else is coming up for Leicester Wildecats?
We’ll be getting involved with Leicester Pride again on Saturday 1 September. We’ll be joining the parade through the city streets, and then we’ll have a stall with Foxes Pride in Victoria Park during the festival. We’re also having our own tournament the day after (Sunday 2 September). We invite a load of teams down, they enjoy the weekend at Pride and then take part in a six-a-side tournament the next day. We have between 20 and 24 teams joining us this year.

How can people interested in playing football get involved with the club?
They can visit our website, wildecats.co.uk, and get in touch with Gareth, or turn up at St Margaret’s Pastures in Leicester every Tuesday night from 7.30pm until 9pm.


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