The Gaygooners fan club in London has led the way for the LGBTQI community to become actively involved in women’s football by offering a social environment beyond the game
Transcending Sport is presented by Chris Stafford
Podcast length: 21’18”
Lea Baynes describes herself as a massive Arsenal fan supporting both Arsenal and Arsenal Women teams and more recently attending the England Lionesses games. She volunteers at the women’s games as well as being a sponsor of one of the players. She is a member of the GayGooners committee, which is actively involved in boosting the supporter base for women’s football. Lea commented: “being a member of GayGooners is amazing, this has been a fantastic couple of years for me.” Chris Stafford caught up with Lea at her home in the south of England to hear about Gaygooners, its involvement in the women’s game and how other LGBT groups are following their lead and providing a supportive community for football fans so they never have to attend a game alone.
[00:00:00] Hi Lea welcome to the program.
[00:00:04] Well are joining us from where exactly?
[00:00:08] Whitstable in Kent, England.
[00:00:10] In the south of England OK so you have a little bit of a commute to your club Arsenal in London do you.
[00:00:20] Oh yeah. As a women it’s about an hour and a half drive. If I go to a men’s game it’s about two hours on public transport.
[00:00:27] Right. But you’re obviously dedicated football fan and we’re going to hear about your background as to why you became such a great fan of the sport and also about the gay goodness and other clubs that I described in my introduction. Now first of all tell me how you became such a football fan. Did you play yourself.
[00:00:49] When I was little as a kid I used to love playing. I used to play with all the boys in the playground at primary school and as I got to about secondary school I started watching it. I actually started watching it like most people and just fell in love with it more and more as the seasons went on and on.
[00:01:08] And I wish I could play it more but I definitely enjoy watching it. Were there particular teams that you followed them when she became a fan.
[00:01:19] It was mainly also obviously in England didn’t really care about anyone else.
[00:01:26] They they just fell in love with that club.
[00:01:30] A dedicated fan right from the start.
[00:01:32] But what was it that appealed to you why Arsenal family rule Arsenal fans and we lived in London at the time bit south London whereas Arsenal is more north London and they were our best local club. It was either that or Charlton really that’s all I really know what Charlton was.
[00:01:55] Now in terms of the popularity of the women’s game and for players and for fans as well it’s relatively recent years that it’s become as popular as it has is and that and I’m curious as to how much women’s game there was when you started to become a fan with the many women’s teams for you to support.
[00:02:16] Well I didn’t know about any when I was like oh I did play for a club when I got to about teenage age and they were pretty poor for Manee people just randomly turning up on the Sunday hoping to get a team together so I didn’t really think it is this big thing. I think it wasn’t until I went to school and managed to get to a women’s F.A. Cup final that was up to par at the time to actually fall out of it. There are some professional players playing here and then start getting on BBC and it was only ever the F.A. Cup final was ever on telly so I didn’t really know much about it until the euros hit in the world cup. That was in Canada or I think it was not that long ago. And that’s where it started I think growing in this country.
[00:03:09] Yes it certainly did that was very popular when the World Cup was in Canada. And now of course you are doing your part to sort of build a community really around the gay and lesbian community. Tell us a little bit about how this came about the gay guvnors because you also told me before that there are many more clubs that are supporting that community and supporting their own teams. Tell us about gay goodness because you’re on the committee of the gay guvnors aren’t you.
[00:03:40] Yes yes I am well Gaygooners itself formed officially February 2013. We were the first and we’re now one of the biggest with over 600 members. They have a banner up in the stadium at the Emirates and we have a committee of about 12 to 15 people that really get together to work out how to just show awareness in the club and show awareness in professional football both men and women’s. I mean yet there are about 35 of a foreign groups for the 92 professional clubs in England at the minute and I think more more more and more clubs are joining. I mean there enough every time I’m on Twitter there’s a new LGBT club that is formed or is forming which I think is brilliant’s but there’s only 35 and there’s 92 professional clubs that could have the community.
[00:04:39] You know it sounds like we’re following your example though with the continued increase in these clubs around the country. It’s only a matter of time. I would imagine before people realize the benefits of it. And to some it them up what would you say are the biggest benefits of having a club for this community.
[00:05:00] As someone that doesn’t go with people generally apart from women’s I’d say being part of an LGBT community gives you that community spirit it allows you to meet people before the games so you’re not feeling like you’re going when you arrive in your buying tickets to give up so you’re sitting with people that you’ve known you’ve met before. And it is that community that you can all go together like a family would go. And sometimes people do tend to end up feeling or can’t go to that game. I want to go on my own I don’t know anyone there I don’t know what I’m doing. And I think taking especially and I know Pride Lions are really starting it’s like the me too not before the games get in knots togetherness beforehand exchanging the tickets there and then going in together as a group and that’s the biggest best reason.
[00:05:58] And this of course would encourage people who might have felt intimidated or isolated and interested but but not really as you say you want to go and sit in the stands on their own to find you know they’re part of this gay lesbian community. It would be very supportive and not only good for them personally but it’s good for the club it’s a win win situation.
[00:06:23] Oh definitely. I really think so.
[00:06:24] I mean a good example of that is when we were all at Pride last year the togetherness of all the teams or the LGBT teams we’re as one because we will come on to the Pride in football.
[00:06:38] So all the LGBT communities have Pride in football is there other members. It’s like we’re members of two groups our LGBT group and the pride and football group and that togetherness I think is absolutely amazing because I don’t think I probably would have hung out with Tottenham fans or chosen fans but because of being on the gay juniors community because I’m going to pride and be proud of football I have now.
[00:07:09] And there were LGBT groups for like everything and not through all of their names I mean you’ve got like Proud Cherries for Bournemouth, Rainbow Rages for QPR, you’ve got Cannlesit Blues for Man City, and my favorite, LGBT Pies for Notts. County. I mean just the genius of the names I think a brilliant.
[00:07:30] That’s fantastic, now this is pride march of course in London which is something I’m personally aware of but this is something that is extending beyond football isn’t it.
[00:07:43] But I’m curious just to come back to your membership. Lee How many of them do you think would have played themselves at any time in their lives. Well.
[00:07:54] To be honest I wouldn’t know the answers because I’ve not really thought about that kind of a statistic but that would be really interesting to look at how many of them would be semi professional or even amateur players themselves. But then I could say you can look at the same statistics with any support group how many fans have actually played themselves.
[00:08:17] Yes exactly. I mean they must have played at village level or at school leave and an interest or as you said in your case had a family interest in a particular club and that would bring make you a supporter and it just happened to me many years ago too. It was family interest in a club that you then went alone because it was a family outing but it sounds as if these LGBTQ groups are becoming a family in themselves. Do you do any other activities aside from going to the game with these groups.
[00:08:52] Oh yes definitely. I mean I don’t know about other groups. I know Gatien is that had Christmas parties. We’ve had social meet ups like Bohlin are no proud Ion’s had a quiz night recently. And yeah before games and before the bra and game Horsnell and bra and both groups met up before the game and had like a penalty shoot out and stuff like that.
[00:09:16] So yeah there are various different opportunities to me even if you never actually want to go to a game yourself.
[00:09:25] And you say on your Twitter feed your profile that Arsenal’s LGBT plus fans is the world’s biggest and the ukase first LGBT plus fan club. When you say you’re the biggest how many numbers do you have that compared to other clubs Lea.
[00:09:44] Well we now have over 600 members and that literally is growing every day. We have members from all over the world. Remember when we a pride and people saw out by now we had people signing up from Germany and lots of other countries. And then also we had people come in from loads of other countries just turning up to Pride just to walk with us. I think it’s incredible really.
[00:10:16] That’s fabulous. Now I’m curious because you’re obviously cross gender. There’s no segregation here at all. How many women you would have compared to the men roughly do you have an approximation of what percentage would be of each gender.
[00:10:33] Yeah I mean we have about 40 percent of them are women.
[00:10:39] Yes 40 percent identifies women and 60 percent identify as men. The minute I mean when you fill out the form to sign up there isn’t like a tick box as such it’s just slight. We accept everyone. Trans people don’t associate with any gender. And everyone’s welcome. There’s no issue and that’s why things burn.
[00:11:04] Yeah that’s wonderful. What where would you like to see this go them because you’ve been part of it now for a couple of years and you are watching these groups grow. You’re watching YOUR OWN grow. Where would you like to see it go in the future. And what else it could do to build this community.
[00:11:20] LEE Oh a thing as groups. I think the next stage really is having more LGBT groups women’s football because there’s only a couple now that really go as a LGBT group. And I think we could do more for lower leagues as well because just just because we are fans of professional football doesn’t mean we’re the only group of fans that should have an LGBT community. I mean even to a local town if you went so far I just went to West of Newtown FC and saw them play. I feel that there should be that acceptance everywhere. And I think the rainbow laces that the Premier League do is brilliant. And I think more and more clubs will be attitude. And I do hope eventually men players will start coming out. I mean the ladies that’s no issue. There are gay professional ladies football players is in and. I miles ahead of the men on that front. I know these two women that played for Arsenal married happily married with kids to their wives and either think that will happen just yet with the men in Africa. That’s one of the reasons I prefer women’s football over men’s but sometimes it’s because I feel their fervor heads when it comes to play has been out.
[00:12:49] In terms of the sport itself. How often do you get to games or do you travel not just when they’re at home but when they’re away too so does not take you as a group than on a train up to the north of England or wherever you need to go.
[00:13:02] Yeah I mean I know a lot of the Gagin as members go to every game. I mean there’s a nice select few that have literally been to every single men’s game and that includes EUROPA Games in the smaller countries and travel on planes all over the world to see if you ever did want to go to an away game or if you live in that country and want to go to a game or acres and that is definitely something you can do.
[00:13:32] Fabulous. All right well I’m bound to ask you this though there the other thing that crossed my mind when thinking about these clubs in the community you’re building and traveling together because you see in cricket there’s the Barmy Army right and they are chanting away and supporting England wherever they go. I’m wondering if you have a theme if you have a song or a team team him so to speak. Team anthem.
[00:14:03] Nothing that we’ve made up as a group. But for now I’ll be a very good idea of something to do.
[00:14:09] I know the women think about four or five of the gay community members that go to the women’s game quite regularly are literally in charge of all the chance that really happened at the Arsenal women’s games. There’s a cop really loud and stay single. Pretty much all the chants.
[00:14:30] It’s not about men. OK.
[00:14:34] Well it sounds like you have a lot of fun doing this. LEIGH So how are the players themselves performing for you. Are you on the winning side this season so far.
[00:14:46] The women yes. Hands down I think women are going to go far this season.
[00:14:50] We’re in the final with the Continental Cup. You’ve only really lost two games. We got new manager and I have a lot of hafe and a lot of hope in some of the players like Lee Williams and Danny Danny Jordan Nobbs they’re just going to go for it. The men seem to be letting this down at the minute. The phrase to think we’ve got like six points out of the last possible 15 and a lot of fans are not happy and they demanded the manager out and I’m just going to happily go to the women and see them when things go well for the moment about the men.
[00:15:27] Barely joined the winning team and put your support there. That’s fabulous. How many album does this season run then for the women. When when does that wrap up is it March or April.
[00:15:41] I think it’s about April, May time where they will break at the minute. England’s are training in Spain and then they back again against reading in a couple of weeks and then we go to home games in February. So we’re about the midway point of the women’s season now.
[00:15:58] OK. And how many of the national team women’s team would be on the England squad.
[00:16:04] I think we’ve got four of them in the latest scalds.
[00:16:09] We have a lot of internationals so we have about four and the Dutch squads. We have one retired American. And then a few other island Scotland’s so are very very mixed squads but they’re all nearly nearly all the same a lot or international players.
[00:16:29] And do you get to meet the players after game have you got to show your community with them do they know how much you supporting them.
[00:16:38] Yes yes. I mean there’s a couple of initiatives that happen at the women’s game.
[00:16:43] One is the people get to sponsor players so you put in a bit of money and you get a sponsor a player and that means you get tickets to games you get programs you get to meet the player afterwards and you get one of their shirts. If you don’t have the money for that then of the referee game you can hang around at the pit side and players do come and have photos when you sign autographs. I mean I’ve been to so many games now that I’ve stopped to that because I just have a different part of a cross because they’re so nice they’re friendly. They love having a chat and talking and they even Tweet back if you Tweet them like a couple of times we’ve tweeted that we’re on the way to an away game and they’re Tweeting back going ‘looking forward to seeing you’, which is brilliant. We really do feel like you were one of the team rather than just a fan watching.
[00:17:32] Yes very much so.
[00:17:34] Yeah, Gaygooners we came to an Arsenal Friend game which is an initiative that Arsenal set up to include everyone not including anyone that works for him. And if people go to games and play as well the rule is it’s for everyone and in that game the Gaygooners has got to meet four players afterwards and we had the picture we have with the Gaygooners banner and everything and that was amazing and wonderful.
[00:18:00] Well it sounds like you’re having a lot of fun and I’m sure you have favorite players too. Are you going to tell us who your favorite player is Ali or.
[00:18:09] Well before yesterday the men was easy. I would have said fear I woke up a place for now so I’m not sure who my favorite player is left. Also maybe Jack Wilshere. For the women is has to be Lea Williamson or Heyo they’re just both brilliant for different reasons.
[00:18:29] OK. All right well you’re obviously having a great deal of fun with it. I think it’s a wonderful initiative and hopefully others will follow. So you get up to 100 almost every team in the country has its own gay and lesbian group. That’d be fabulous. Well we continue to have fun enjoy your football or soccer as we call it here. And thank you so much for taking the time to come on the program.
[00:18:55] No problem. Thank you for inviting me.