Football clubs across the country will be dedicating fixtures to the ‘football v homophobia’ campaign this February.

Charlton are no different, as they dedicate Saturday’s tie against Luton Town at The Valley to the fight.

The campaign, timed to coincide with LGBT History Month, aims to raise awareness of homophobia in the sport and why it needs eradicating.

A Charlton season ticket holder for over 30 years and chairperson of Proud Valiants, the Addicks LGBTQI+ supporters’ group, Rob Harris spoke of the importance of Saturday’s event, highlighting recent anti-gay chanting at the Premier League fixture between Chelsea and Manchester United which led to fans being ejected from the ground.

“Homophobic, transphobic, bi-phobic and racial abuse is on the rise again,” Mr Harris said.

“The incident that happened at Chelsea, you could hear on the TV, such behaviour needs calling out as a hate crime.

“It worries me where it’s going, and unfortunately I think it will get a lot worse before it gets better again.

"Football reflects society-  there is a rise in hate crime attacks in society and that’s reflected in the behaviour in stadiums.

“I think homophobia is a lot to do with a fear of the unknown, a lot of it is down to education, especially when it comes down to football.

“That’s why events like this Saturday are really important.”

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Football v Homophobia comes from the well-established Justin Fashanu Campaign. The campaign spawned in memory of former Norwich City and Nottingham Forest forward Justin Fashanu, who in 1990 became the first professional footballer to come out as gay while still playing. Fashanu took his own life in 1998.

'It only takes a chant'

No professional footballer has come out during their career since, for reasons Mr Harris believes is down to how they will be perceived a section of the public.

“There’s a real re-education that needs to happen,” he continued.

“It’s not just for some fans, but governing bodies, players, agents, through the dressing room, clubs and managers at all levels.

"For many LGBT supporters they go to football in inherent fear.

"A fear we’ve grown up with, and it doesn’t leave you.

"You can become a pretty rounded and happy member of society, but it only takes one thing to pull you back to the dressing room at school, the ‘banter’ you heard growing up.  

"For many fans who identify as LGBT, most of the people who sit around them won’t know that.

"For me when I go to watch Charlton it is with un-describable passion, for those 90 minutes nothing matters apart from the love, the pain, you’re invested emotionally.

"However for an LGBT person it only takes a chant from of a nearby fan of “get up you Poof” or similar to violate this passion and ruin the rest of the match.

"That language is unacceptable and it’s up to fans who hear this to call it out to nearby stewards and for them to take the complaint seriously.

'Football should be a safe place for all of us'

Mr Harris re-calls first-hand experiences which have made him play a more active role in fighting for the campaign

“There have been times, luckily not at Charlton, where I heard comments that really took me back to the days when I was at my blackest, when I tried to commit suicide – your history always travels with you.

"Football should be a safe place for all of us and that’s why events like Saturday are really important.”

Addicks a front-runner in the cause

The work Proud Valiants do in fighting for the LGBTQ+ community go beyond Saturday’s matchday event.

With Addicks legend Paul Mortimer as the patron for the supporters group, Mr Harris commended the work the club do in facilitating their endeavours.

“The great thing is, Charlton are trying to fight prejudice and hatred more than any other club I know – the coverage we receive is outstanding” Mr Harris continued.

“We get great support from everyone, from Lee (Bowyer), the coaching team and Matt Southall the new chairman, has been very positive.

“In the past we’ve been invited to parliament to discuss homophobia in sport, we’ve got Paul (Mortimer) and Lilli Maple as our patrons, all these people coming on board making statements is incredible.

“Some other teams holding these events might just get a mention in a programme, or a one time on mention on the big screen, they don’t have what we have.

"This Saturday will be epic, including trophy presentations, The Pink Singers performing on the pitch, half time events and a reception where we have prominent speakers from the FA, The EFL, FVH, Leader of the Council and of course Paul Mortimer.

"Also via the Charlton Athletic Community Trust – we have been able to secure tickets for more Pride Valiant members for the game.

"The work we do with Charlton Athletic, The Trust, our members and our sister playing team Charlton Invicta – makes me so indescribably proud.”

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