England footballer Conor Coady backs bid to create hundreds of LGBTQ+ ‘ally clubs’

Conor Coady with a ally flag

England international Conor Coady wants to put an end to homophobia in football, lending his support to a new initiative designed to support inclusivity at a grassroots level.

“As a straight man, I’ve always felt welcome in the game. For many in the LGBTQIA+ community that is not the case,” Coady told PinkNews.

The Leicester City defender is supporting the Allies United initiative, which aims to create hundreds of “ally clubs” at grassroots level by the end of the year. 

It constitutes free courses, designed by Football vs Homophobia and funded by Just Eat, that require clubs to attend online workshop sessions, complete self-assessments and put into action key steps that display a commitment to allyship in order to achieve their ally status. 

The initiative follows data, commissioned by Just Eat, which found that 78 per cent of people from the LGBTQ+ community who were surveyed would not consider playing grassroots football. This was because of concerns over homophobic and transphobic language (18 per cent) in the sport, not feeling welcomed (15 per cent) and a lack of conversations around LGBTQ+ allyship (14 per cent). 

Despite these figures, 90 per cent of grassroots football clubs surveyed said they would welcome anyone who wishes to play, regardless of their identity. 

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The campaign will offer training and support to grassroots clubs. Conor Coady is in the back row, holding the ball. (Supplied)

Coady, who was honoured with the Football Ally Award in the 2021 British LGBT Awards, said: “Active allyship is essential in ensuring everyone feels welcome, valued and included in football and that’s why I’m proud to support Allies United. 

“By providing allyship education and training at grassroots level, this landmark initiative will help build a version of football that is accessible to all, regardless of how you identify or who you love.”

The former Wolves captain, who came through the Liverpool FC academy, explained he wanted to get involved in the campaign as a means of helping others who love the beautiful game as much as he does. 

“I’m a very privileged person to be in [the] position of being a footballer and if anybody, in any walk of life, comes to me for any source of help at any point, I would always try my best to give it,” he said. 

Conor Coady is well-known as an LGBTQ+ ally. (Supplied)

While there appears to be a willingness from grassroots clubs to be more inclusive, Just Eat’s data shows more than 25 per cent of leaders and players are not sure what good ally practice looks like. 

As well as this, almost three quarters (72 per cent) of grassroots clubs feel professional teams and bodies need to do more to lead by example and provide guidance and education on allyship – many feeling the overall game would become more accessible if inclusion was encouraged at all levels. 

Coady, who joined Leicester earlier this month and has won 10 England caps, said that as a professional player at the top of his game he is keen to speak out on the topic of inclusion because he understands fans of all ages “look up” to him, and players like him, for guidance. 

In his opinion, football has “come a long distance” but he acknowledged that the sport still has a way to go in terms of making LGBTQ+ people feel completely comfortable being out on the pitch.  

“I’ve been involved with some fantastic dressing rooms, and if anybody decided to [come out], the players I have played with and the teams I’ve been involved in, it would never be a problem with anybody.” 

Nine in 10 grassroots clubs say they would welcome players of any identity to their teams. (Supplied)

Lou Englefield, the Campaign director for Football vs Homophobia, said that for many LGBTQ+ footballers, “poor experiences” at the “start of their football journey affect them negatively for life”. 

He continued: “While tremendous strides have been made in tackling homophobia in football, if even one player feels unwelcome at grassroots level, there is still work to be done. That’s why we’re excited to be creating this programme with Just Eat and making a tangible difference at grassroots level. 

“The creation of Allies United is a powerful message to LGBTQIA+ players that they are always welcome in the game.”

To apply to join Allies United, visit footballvhomophobia.com/AlliesUnited.