Liverpool’s season has got off to a great start, with back to back wins and two clean sheets, the return of supporters to stadiums and optimism soaring. However, for Liverpool’s LGBT supporters that joy has been marred by homophobic chanting from pockets of their fellow fans.
With the Reds set to face Chelsea at the weekend, concerns that the “rent boys” chant will get a further airing has left some of these supporters with anxiety about going to the game.
This is Anfield caught up with Paul Amann, founding member of Kop Outs, an organisation that has campaigned to end discrimination in football for many years, to discuss the issue.
Paul has been a Liverpool supporter since childhood, born to mixed-race parents, his father was a lifelong Red who came to the UK from Trinidad, his mother was born in Exeter, he has always felt that the Reds are in his blood. He would jump at the opportunity to move to the city to begin his studies at University and has since set up home here. Indeed you would struggle to find a more committed and passionate Liverpudlian.
The Anfield boss received praise in many quarters for taking the issue seriously, signalling his unequivocal support to the LGBT community and calling for the song to be stricken from the Anfield song book, stating “I don’t want to hear it. From now on, it is not our song.”
For Paul and many others, Jurgen’s words were hugely significant and a sign that the club is showing real leadership in this area.
In particular, Jordan Henderson‘s commitment to wearing rainbow laces and his high profile engagement with LGBT supporters on social media coupled with the club’s wholehearted support for Virtual Pride are all seen as signs that Liverpool FC are doing much more than paying lip service to the issue.
Homophobia, like racism in sport, is a societal issue. It causes real pain, psychological damage and it excludes people from many aspects of community life that others enjoy and take for granted. It also results in a sense of isolation and exclusion. In addition, LGBT people experience physical violence and hate crimes in the same way that ethnic minority groups do.
Tragically, the city of Liverpool has experienced a series of horrific attacks on young gay men, which illustrates graphically that normalising abuse of the LGBT community in the name of “banter” is something we shouldn’t tolerate as a fanbase.
“We’ve had kids lying battered on the streets of our city just for being gay,” said Paul, calling on straight supporters to stand in solidarity with the lesbian, gay and transgender community.
“It’s unacceptable and we all have a role to play in stopping this. The time for being a bystander is over. We need more than words. If you see someone being abused for their sexuality or any other protected characteristic, stand up and challenge it. tell them it’s unacceptable, educate your mates. If it’s unsafe for you to do that, then do call the police.”
Paul accepts that one club or even football as a whole can’t solve the problem alone. Instead, it’s about all parts of society doing their bit to tackle the issue. If we all do what we can, we have more chance of success and that starts with all Reds being prepared to listen and show solidarity with fellow fans who are asking for their help.
There are of course those who claim the song is just “banter” and simply aimed at winding up the opposition. Others claim the song is not homophobic, but a reference to the club selling out in the Abramovich era. To be clear this is not true. The song predates the arrival of the Russian oligarch by many years. It is clearly an attempt to use “rent boy,” a pejorative term for a male prostitute who exclusively services men, as an insult.
If you’re simultaneously arguing that the song is only meant to “wind up” the opposition, while arguing it’s not derogatory, then you’re on fairly shaky ground.
The fact is that using being gay, lesbian or transgender as a way to insult or “wind up” others does contribute to normalising discrimination against these communities. As a fanbase that prides itself on being inclusive and welcoming to all, this should be unacceptable. However, what frustrates the LGBT community is that even if you accept that it’s sung to get under the skin of the opposition, it doesn’t work, and it is counterproductive.
“The players it is aimed at don’t even hear it, and if they do they don’t care,” he tells This is Anfield. “Instead, you’re only really harming your own fans by singing the song.”
Others have pointed to the abuse Liverpool fans receive over Hillsborough, Heysel and the songs sung about Scousers living in poverty as justification for responding in kind. Kop Outs accept that these songs are also unacceptable. For them, the point isn’t to meet one wrong with another instead, we should be looking to rise above it and challenge all forms of discriminatory behaviour.
“I have wholeheartedly championed the rights of other groups and fought against racism and given my support to the Hillsborough Justice Campaign, Fans Supporting Foodbanks and observe the city’s boycott of the Sun.
“For me, the ethos of the club, its fans and the city is about solidarity, unity is strength and an injury to one is an injury to all. When I’m at Anfield, I feel I am part of a community that is welcoming and united. It’s a warm and positive atmosphere. But when I hear vile chants like the ‘rent boys’ one aimed at Chelsea players, it’s like having a bucket of cold water thrown over you. You feel like an outsider, not welcome.
“I will continue to argue the songs sung about our city and the Hillsborough disaster are wrong, and I am proud to live in Liverpool and support this club. But the ‘rent boys’ chant is wrong too. All we are asking for is the same solidarity we have shown others over the years.”
Paul was elected to the Liverpool Supporters Committee as the LGBT rep a decade ago. He is the only member of that body to be reelected and is immensely proud of the service he has provided to the club and its supporters, which includes educating staff and employees alike about LGBT issues. Paul is also a lifelong Trade Unionist and has spent his life campaigning for the rights of others and campaigning against all forms of discrimination.
For all of that though, Paul has no problem with singing songs that wind the opposition up and get under their skin, he just feels that the way to do that is to use the legendary wit and humour the Kop has become famous for. He feels we shouldn’t need to scrape the barrel, and says Liverpool supporters are too creative for that.
“We have such an amazing range of inventive songs,” said Paul. “We don’t need this one.”
Kop Outs will be at Anfield for the visit of Chelsea on Saturday. Their members and supporters are excited about the new season, just like you are. They’ll be there to roar the Reds on, just like you will be. And win, lose or draw, they’ll be back again for the next game, just like you.
Why would anyone want to make these supporters feel excluded or out in the cold? ‘Unity is Strength’, the banner on the Kop declares. It’d be great if we could show that this is more than just words.