The brave coming out story of Blackpool striker Jake Daniels last week has helped lead the way for LGBT+ footballers to finally thrive at the professional level.
Further down the pyramid, in the grassroots, LGBT+ football has also been riding a high this season. To bring the curtain down on a breakthrough campaign for the community, Village Manchester will take on the Dublin Devils in the final of the Gay Football Supporters Network Cup on Saturday.
More than 20 LGBT+ inclusive teams from across the UK and Ireland have spent the past seven months battling for a place in the showpiece event. The Devils began their bid for a maiden GFSN Cup back in October’s preliminary rounds, and have become the first-ever Irish team to reach the final.
Given the team have had to fly over from the Republic of Ireland for two of their four games so far in the competition, it is a remarkable achievement. And it is a cup run that Devils captain Adam Kane believes can help to drive his club forward as they celebrate their 17th anniversary.
“We had two home games which were a blessing because, the Ryanair’s were grand, but it was all the hotels and other bits just catch up with you. It was never an issue to go over on short notice for some of the lads,” Kane exclusively told Mirror Football.
“It’s just a testament to how strong our resolve is and how we want to do well in the competition. There’s always that dynamic of an Irish team playing an English or a British team, whether it’s football or rugby or cricket, we always punch above our weight. I don’t know if that’s applied here but we have a really good team, I’m delighted with how we’ve done.
“Even now, it’s got a lot of eyes on it, especially as we’re playing in a League of Ireland ground as well. Hopefully we’ll have a decent crowd coming down to support us. So there’s that buzz of each player has their friends and family of course but there’s also different people from the community sharing it.
“Our sponsors The George, which is a gay bar in Dublin, are sharing it on their stories and it’s reaching people who maybe haven’t played football but will want to get involved. It’s great, it hasn’t happened before, we hope it’s not the last.”
The lack of role models at the professional level has long been seen as one of the obstacles preventing many from the LGBT+ community from becoming involved in sport. In that sense, Daniels’ decision to come out marks a huge step forwards and Kane hopes that a thriving Devils team can also help to show that sexuality is no barrier to sporting success.
“There’s a massive stigma of being gay within football so I wanted to show that there are gay people who like playing football, who like playing sports, and are good at it as well. It boils down to football being for everyone regardless of gender, race, age, sexuality or ability,” Kane said, speaking before Daniels came out.
“With regards to LGBT+ clubs thriving, it just shows that just because you’re gay it doesn’t mean you can’t play or be really good at sport. We see it a lot with individual sports, you see it with Tom Daley, in Ireland we have Kellie Harrington, the boxer, she’s been a massive success over here.
“But when it comes to team sports, there isn’t as much representation, particularly in the men’s game. There’s Josh Cavallo in Australia, that was a big deal when he came out but other than that… I think it’s just due to a lack of inclusive culture that exists in team sports so it’s important to see not just our club doing well but all the LGBT+ clubs doing well.”
Standing in the Devils’ way of lifting the trophy will be Village Manchester, who are attempting to win their fourth GFSN Cup. They set a record last year by winning the competition for a third time and manager Pete Ransom is keen to see his side live up to their favourites tag.
“It would be right up there certainly, we’ve had some really memorable days over the years and doing this a fourth time would be a terrific achievement. I think it would also be a terrific way to finish the season as well,” Ransom exclusively told Mirror Football.
“Personally, it would mean quite a lot because I’ve never been part of a cup-winning squad in this tournament which has been quite frustrating for me over the years. So I’d be really happy to get this one over the line.”
It is not just in the GFSN Cup where Village have enjoyed a successful season, their first team secured promotion from Division Three of the Lancashire and Cheshire Amateur Football League on the final day. And much like Kane, Ransom believes that showing LGBT+ teams are thriving is crucial for representation within the wider game.
“The biggest thing for the club and its main focus each season will be about performance in the local leagues. Obviously, we’ve had a really good weekend where our first team have won their division and gained promotion,” he said.
“I think that shows where we’re at with what LGBT players can do, they can win leagues domestically. For us, we always want to win everything we’re in, but we also want to make sure we have a good time as well. I was keen to do it because I think it’s a really special tournament in that it brings people together from all over the club.
“What I was really keen on doing was making sure we had representatives from all five of the teams that were established at the start of the season. We’ve got gay, straight, bi and trans players and I just wanted a good mix of everyone involved.
“The great thing is the guys from the first team have been really encouraging for everyone who might not be at the same level of performance as they are. They’ve got a real kick out of it.”
Kane, though, hopes that the Devils can end Village’s dominance and become the first Irish team to lift the Cup. While aware of the challenge that Manchester will pose, the Dublin skipper is confident his team can make history at Shelbourne’s Tolka Park on Saturday.
“I’d be buzzing. It would mean a lot. With all the money and effort and grit to get to where we are, especially in front of a home crowd, with family and friends there, it would mean a lot not just to me but to the rest of the lads as well,” Kane said.
“I think the club’s always done well. Got to the semi-finals a couple of times but just wasn’t to be to get to the final in previous years. The club’s always wanted to do really well in the cup so it’s good to fulfil that.”
The 2022 GFSN Cup final will be streamed live on Shelbourne FC’s official YouTube page, while entry to Tolka Park for the game is free for spectators, with kick-off at 2pm on Saturday