David Alvarado, chair of the official Manchester City LGBT+ supporters’ group, Canal Street Blues, recalls the moment when it truly hit him how disconnected the gay community was with football.
“Football and the LGBT community has never been mixed that much," he tells Goal as part of an exclusive interview, "but we are just trying to show people you can be LGBT and a football fan.
"Even some of my close mates who are now members, one of them, when we turned up to Canal Street one night for a few drinks, said: ‘Are you guys football fans?’.
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“He whips his top off and he has a City top underneath. He didn’t think you could do that sort of thing around the Village.”
Canal Street Blues were one of the first LGBT+ supporters' clubs associated with a Premier League side after being founded in 2014, with Alvarado serving as chair since 2019.
During that time, City have embarked on the most successful period in their history, and shared a little of that with Canal Street Blues, who brought the four trophies City won in 2018-19 to their home at Bar Pop for display – a sign of the link the organisation has with the Citizens.
While there is some disjunct between LGBT+ supporters and City, with the club’s owners being the royal family of a nation – the United Arab Emirates – where homosexuality is illegal, at the local level Alvarado can only praise the outreach work being done by the club, even if they need their hand held to go in the right direction.
“They always want to help, but they’re not always sure how to do it,” he says. “That’s something that reflects across all Premier League clubs, from speaking to other supporters’ groups, the clubs want to do the right thing, and that’s where we come in.
“City have appointed an equality and inclusion lead, he’s our direct contact. We’re looking forward to working with him, because the individuals who often work in clubs have never been exposed to this sort of work before, so they are learning as well.
“The Canal Street Blues flag is one of the most prominent at Etihad Stadium, and that’s great to see, but we’ve all seen disparaging comments when the club tries to promote anything to do with LGBT.
“We’ve got our own development as a society in the UK, but clubs have fans across the world where attitudes are different, so there is a role for clubs to play, similar to racism.”
The issue of homophobia closer to home, Alvarado says, is its prevalence on social media.
A season ticket holder at Etihad Stadium, he says the atmosphere at the ground when fans can attend is perfectly fine – but the atmosphere online is often toxic.
"The sensible majority is the overwhelming majority. Yes, I’ve heard the odd throwaway comment, but the real issue these days is social media. The actual matchday experience, most people would generally not tolerate it.
“I can’t remember the last time I heard a homophobic chant, but on our Canal Street Blues Facebook page, I’ve had to delete comments with some pretty vile stuff, because people think there are no consequences.
“In the ground, there are consequences: you’ll be chucked out, have your season ticket taken off you. Online, it is not a safe space.”
What can be done to improve matters? In football, Alvarado feels it has to be the players who drive change – not necessarily through a player coming out, but more footballers of all sexualities becoming more comfortable talking about the issue publicly and condemning abuse the way racism has been.
He says: “We all know there is bound to be homosexual male players, but it’s going to take time for one of them to feel comfortable coming out while playing. When they do, that will change attitudes. For kids, it will provide role models.
“We see the odd player make comments supporting equality, but it is quite rare. There is still stigma. All the clubs and the FA and fans can do is create an environment where being gay is ok.
“I don’t think there is an issue of people turning a blind eye, but in terms of the general feeling around homophobia in football, yes it is still there. The big driver will be if players lead.
“Coming out, at the end of the day it is a personal choice. I believe fans, the vast majority, will be hugely supportive.”
Ultimately, he thinks the game is heading in the right direction, but a more consistent strategy needs to be employed – not just a week or month of action here and there.
“What we don’t want is a box-ticking exercise, that doesn’t achieve anything and can be patronising.
“That’s why I’m really pleased City have employed their inclusion lead, his passion comes through about the issues. It’s an important role and it’s across the worldwide City group, which to me shows they want to take it seriously.
“If clubs just do the minimum the Premier League tell them and it’s just sporadic and tied to publicity, rather than getting their hands dirty, I can relate to that. Sometimes the fans have to push this.
“In Manchester, we have a really strong cultural link in the city to LGBT causes, it is part of the fabric of the city. Clubs should reflect that.”