The beautiful game and me: gay footballer Nick Coveney explains his complicated relationship with the UK’s favourite passtime.
Growing up I never had an easy relationship with football – it always felt like the epitome of “lad culture”. Despite my brother’s repeated attempts to get me “into it” – by practising with me or attempting to explain the rules when matches were on, I felt an almost allergic reaction to the sport and avoided watching or playing it at all costs.
Things got much worse at school when it became apparent that the popular athletic boys played football (and obsessed about it), geeks like me stuck to our imaginations, computer games and, of course, our books. Football was enshrined in some sort of divine right of school pecking order – the more you knew or played the cooler you were. Just owning a ball or the latest expensive pair of boots increased your status for some reason. If you didn’t care you were automatically different, uncool, other. I began to embrace that and my apathy towards football morphed into something closer to active dislike.
When I was outed to my high school at 15, PE turned into a wholly different spectator sport as one of the unofficial games was who could throw their football at my head the most times while I got changed.
At my school leaver’s prom I was apparently voted as winner of Most Likely to Have a Sex Change – they really didn’t understand the core differences between a gay man and a trans woman. What they probably would have awarded me with too, if it were a category, is Least Likely to Take Up Football. How wrong they would be…
It began when I fell in love with my partner who has always been an avid football lover (he’s a Gooner/Shrimper and I’m more of an Addicks/Cobbler man myself). After joking while we were first dating that he’d succeed where others failed and teach me to enjoy matches, we started going watch our local club Charlton Athletic and before I knew it I was shouting at the referee and could even explain that mysterious offside rule to people.
Five years later this summer, we saw an old advert for what was then called Bexley Invicta FC, an LGBT+ inclusive football club for South East London and Kent, and debated whether or not we should come along to a practice and try to get involved. Despite being the less likely candidate, I decided to go along and give it a go, and now I’ve been going to practice every week for nearly two months.
Last week our club made national news as it was officially taken under the wing of Charlton Athletic’s Community Trust and changed its name from Bexley Invicta to CACT Invicta FC – which is the first time a professional football team has set up a club specifically geared towards being LGBT+ inclusive.
We play in the London Unity League which brings together LGBT+ and LGBT+ friendly teams, but becoming part of Charlton officially is a huge step in terms of extending the reach of the club and its capacity to get more people involved.
One of the reasons why I love being a part of Charlton Invicta is despite being a very diverse bunch of lads, we are a team. When I joined it must have been obvious that playing was outside my comfort zone and not something I possessed a huge talent for (I can run pretty fast when I need to that’s about it) but the guys still welcomed me with open arms and have supported and encouraged me at every training session – slowly but surely, every week I’m getting better. Anyone is welcome at our club regardless of their sexuality or ability level.
Football still has a big problem with homophobia, there are no openly gay players in the Premier League or indeed the Football League, and homophobic chants are still a depressingly common go-to. But change is coming there have been national initiatives; FootballvsHomophobia, Stonewall UK’s Rainbow Laces campaign, and LGBT+ inclusive teams like ours hopefully will encourage more and more people to realise it’s a beautiful game after all.