A Chat With: Kop Outs

This week, former footballer Thomas Beattie, 33, became just the second male professional player from the UK to come out as gay. Beattie, who hails from Goole in Yorkshire played for Hull City’s youth team before playing professionally for more than a decade in the US, Canada and Singapore.

We spoke to Paul Amann, from Kop Outs, LFC’s LGBT+ supporters group about the significance of this news and to find out more about Kop Out’s work in this area.

What do you feel is the significance of  Beattie’s announcement this week and why is coming out in professional football still seen as taboo?

“Globally, only around 15 professional football players have come out and the vast majority have done this at the end of their careers. Really, this is a damning indictment of the football environment, that they feel they can only do this when they stop playing.

“The reasons for this, I believe are manifold. We know that there are several clubs globally that have gay or bi players on the team who are not out. They support and look after them as they do any other team member. But beyond the dressing room there are agents, managers, club officials, image people, fan groups and fans, whose approaches, reactions and opinions all feed into a player’s decision not to come out.

“In 2016 a BBC 5 Live survey found that eight percent of football fans would not be willing to support a team if a player came out. It was a deeply concerning number. Kop Outs reaction to that, and that of our LFC straight allies, was that we don’t want fans like that supporting our teams and them leaving would free up seats for real fans!

“If a player were to come out now, during their career, they would need the support of their team, club and agent, as well as a strong external support network of friends and family. They’d need to be able to stand up to media pressure and have a certain mental strength to deal with the glare of that attention. They’d also need to be a good player. Unfortunately, if a player came out and was not performing well, their sexuality could be another stick to beat them with. It invites a lot of pressure, which is why those who come out choose to wait. 

“A very different environment needs to be cultivated to make it easier for players to come out during their playing career. They need the full backing not just of the team, but also the club, agents and all other parts of the football industry.”

So tell us about Kop Outs. When and why were you established?

“We were founded in 2016 with the backing of LFC, with the intention of ensuring that any LGBT+ fan who wanted to go to the game could tap into a network of other LGBT+ fans. We have 170 signed up members and 10,000 followers across Twitter and Facebook.

“At LFC we have a long history, because of Hillsborough, of wanting fans to get to the game safely, enjoy the game safely and come home safely. Safety is a huge concern for LGBT+ fans and in particular trans fans, many of who have experienced abuse and horrific hate crime. We want those fans to get the very best support. We have the ear of the club and we know how to work effectively with allies to get positive messages out there, to ensure a safe and enjoyable environment for everyone.”

What is your objective as an organisation?

“We promote LGBT+ human rights and support the ability for those rights to be realised in a true and fundamental way, in a football environment. We tackle the challenges facing LGBT+ football fans and support relevant campaigns that affect us both as football fans and LGBT+ people.

There is the issue of safety at the match, but then ticket prices also affect LGBT+ supporters in the same way as others. We are particularly active where football fan issues and LGBT+ issues intersect. We have also been vocal around Black Lives Matters and Trans Rights, because those issues affect our members as well.

“We see education as a huge part of our role and making sure that mainstream fans understand the impact of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic comments and actions, that they can destroy lives. We very much feel we have better equipped our main fanbase to understand the impact of their behaviour.”

Do you get support from mainstream fans and fan groups?

“We are supported by so many other fan groups. Spirit of Shankly, Anfield Wrap, Homebaked, Soccer in the City, and Fans Supporting Foodbanks, they all engage with us on LGBT+ issues, promote our positive messages and help to educate the mainstream fan base.

“These organisations use their influence to make sure our stuff is always in the mix. Last week Peter Carney at Soccer in the City worked with LFC to get as many banners in the Kop ahead of the game and he made sure our Kop Out banner was there and visible amongst all the others. That support means a great deal.

“Our peers at other clubs are also supportive and give feedback on the impact of our work. My counterpart at Chelsea has said they have seen the sharpest reduction in homophobic chants at Liverpool, which is fantastic.

“Singing homophobic songs and chats is offensive and tawdry and to be quite honest, LFC have got much better things to talk and sing about. Especially now, being Champions of England, Champions of Europe and Champions of the World!

“We also have fantastic support from allies in the main fanbase. We have on a number of occasions, worked with LFC to help trans fans attend the game in a way that they feel safe, with stewards being alert to where they are sitting and nearby so they can act quickly if there are any problems. 

“To my knowledge, on those occasions there’s never been any trouble. Even where there have been homophobic comments or incidents, its been fans in the main fanbase that have stood up and called it out. That’s really the best way of dealing with it, with fellow fans acting as allies and challenging it.

Tell us a bit more about your activities, why they are great and why would you encourage people to get involved?

“We use social media to promote Kop Outs and the work we do and, when we are allowed, we have physical meet-ups to watch the game together, often alongside (LCR Pride Award winners) Mersey Marauders FC. It’s great because it’s good fun to chat to other LGBT+ fans who have your back, to enjoy the game in a place you feel safe.

“For lots of people this has been thier first time watching the game as a gay person, which is really touching. After being an armchair fan, it’s liberating for them to be able to watch the game as their true self and not have to monitor their language, to just be themselves.”

This year our theme is ‘Young At Heart’, which promotes the right for LGBT+ people to live happy, healthy and carefree lives, regardless of how they identify. How does supporting and participating in football align with this? 

“Football isn’t just an armchair experience. You go to the match and you’re standing, singing and chanting. It’s a very physical thing to do, you can come back home exhausted. You’re also coming together for a common purpose with a large group of people around you.

“It’s a bit like being part of a choir in that sense, which is often lauded as being affirming and great for your mental health. Going to the match and coming together with others to watch the match can be a wonderful part of a happy, healthy life.

“Just singing the words to You’ll Never Walk Alone with 54,000 other people is extremely affirming to LGBT+ people.”

With Pride in Liverpool cancelled this year, what does Pride in Liverpool mean to your and how will you be marking the occasion?

“I have a vivid memory from Liverpool’s first Pride. I was marching with Mersey Marauders FC on the first march. We never expected so many people to turn out for that first march and we certainly didn’t expect people to line the streets and watch. We stopped at one point on Whitechapel and there were two older women standing there chatting and watching.

“Suddenly, one pointed towards us and said in the broadest Scouse accent you’ve heard “Oh look, they play footie too.” You could see the penny dropping. We played football, just like their sons did. It was a brilliant and very Liverpool moment.

“As we can’t march in person this year, we’ll certainly be getting involved in the online march.”

Anything else you’d like to share?

“Last week was a wonderful week for the club, but we have so many other things to be happy about as well. We want to extend a huge thank you to our fellow fans and fans groups who have made sure we don’t walk alone. These people and organisations that make it all real for us.”

To find out more about Kop Outs visit their Twitter and Facebook pages. You can contact them directly via these social channels.

Image courtesy of Liverpool Football Club