Young people are doing more for inclusive football than the powerful, from sharing the gaming experience of women to pioneering LGBTQ+ players. We could all learn a thing or two from her approach, writes Laura Lawrence.
football is changing. And it has to change. I say that as a Legacy fan: one of the curmudgeons who likes the traditions of football. One who would vehemently protest the creation of super leagues and the expansion of competitions to the point where they become meaningless.
But it has to change off the pitch.
Research over the past few years has worried governing bodies like the FA enough to figure out how he can appeal to the next generation of football fans. 42 percent of Gen Z (13-23 years old) reportedly have no interest in sports. They want ad-free highlights about a 90-minute fight through a 0-0 draw. A TikTok vision of esports.
As governing bodies consider how the fundamentals of men’s soccer could change, off the field Millennials and Gen Z are taking things into their own hands to make the game inclusive, engaging and a sport they believe is theirs generation belongs.
The weekend marked the one year anniversary of #HerGameToo, a relentless campaign to expose and challenge misogyny online and on football pitches. It was a heroic endorsement and so gratifying to see club after club donate their time and pledges to women football fans – with the promise that they will do more to make them feel welcome, safe and valued as football fans.
It sounds like this should be self-evident by now and not something that requires a national campaign. But it does; and it made people aware of what it’s really like to be a female football fan. The tide of stories about women’s experiences has flowed like a faucet since the murder of Sarah Everard, and the river has flown right through football’s historically male environment. The young women – founder Caz May and her co-founders Amy Clement, Lucy Ford, Eve Ralph and Leah Case – who started with a clever social media video are now helping to hold up a giant mirror to the sport.
It has also taken a 17-year-old to make a monumental leap – a leap that has taken over 30 years to complete. Blackpool first-team debutant Jake Daniels came out as only the second openly gay player in British Football League. With the support of his club Stonewall, the PFA and Sky Sports, the young player has taken his time making the decision to go public and did so when the time was right for him. He was not pushed into it because his “story” could be leaked to the press.
By making this decision to speak out about his sexuality, he has opened the field for more male gamers to feel confident that they can still play the sport they love and be who they really are. It won’t be easy for Jake – unfortunately, comments have been shut down from his social media accounts and the Sky Sports interview he gave. It shouldn’t be bold to be who you are, but at a time when the UK has slipped down the rankings as an LGBTQ+-friendly country due to the government’s stance on conversion therapy and the general shift to the right, Daniels is a force for the good and should be protected at all costs.
It’s not my generation or the baby boomers above me who are making the change, even though they hold positions of power, it’s the generations below me who are opening the game. Long may it go on like this.
Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR