BY JOSHUA SCHNEIDER-WEILER
Darryl Telles is the author of We’re Queer and We Should Be Here: The perils and pleasures of being a gay football fan, a memoir about his life as a gay Tottenham fan since 1970. Telles was one of the earliest members of the Gay Football Supporters Network and one of the founding members of the Tottenham Proud Lilywhites, the gay supporters group of Tottenham. In his memoir, Telles, takes the reader on a journey with nostalgic tales of Tottenham away games in England and Europe, his experiences with homophobia in the stands and how gay supporters groups transformed his life as a person and fan. In this interview, we cover those topics and the state of homosexuality in football. If you want to hear the interview with Telles in its entirety, listen to the audio interview below by clicking on the FAS logo.
It Started With A Skinhead
Josh: Your brother was a Chelsea fan so why were you a Tottenham fan?
Darryl: Well, as the book says, we were asked by two skinheads that we met, one was a Spurs fan and one was Chelsea fan, so he chose Chelsea and I chose Spurs and it just stuck with me. Also, I’m from Finchley so it’s either Spurs or the other side. I went for the right side in terms of Tottenham Hotspurs, in terms of being the nearest Premiership club.
First Game Abuse
Josh: And what was your first game like going to Tottenham?
Darryl: Well I didn’t actually go until 1978 so I was about 14, yeah just after my 14th birthday. Now the reason for that is that there was a lot of hooliganism in those days, my mum thought I would not be safe if I went with the Spurs, so I went with a friend from school because it was just amazing because in those days you had terraces so you were in all amongst all these people shoving and pushing and the excitement of the crowd. Also, Tottenham had just come up from the second division, we had just spent one year in the second division. We just signed Ardiles and Villa from Argentina who won the World Cup so it was full of excitement and a bit of fear and trepidation. I could remember it quite vividly….we were playing Nottingham Forrest, and as you read in the book, Forest has just won the league, so it was a very big game, but their manager Brian Clough was taunted about being a homosexual and they were singing from the terraces because of his friendship with his assistant manager Peter Taylor at the time, and so yeah from my first game there were always chants of that nature. But there was also comments that were made like “faggot” or “queer” which were just said almost all the time in the late 70s early 80s, no one thought about it at all.
Josh: At that point had you already came out? Or did you know that you were gay at that point?
Darryl: Yeah I think I knew I was gay since I was 8 actually, 7 or 8, so it was quite early. I hadn’t actually come out but I think I knew to myself that this was not a phase that I was going through or anything. Yeah, I would say I was gay when I watched the game, I had not met someone else, so I had not had any sexual experiences, but yeah I did know I was gay.
Joining a Silent and Unseen Community
Josh: At what point did you decide to become one of the earliest members of the gay supporters football network? How did that come about?
Darryl: When I came back from the university which was in 1986, I really could not go to football. One because I didn’t have friends that actually went to Spurs, so I got disconnected with my friends from School, and also the few occasions that I did go on my own I felt quite isolated and vulnerable as a gay fan. So I went to one or two games but not regularly, it was only in 1989 when I saw an advert in Gay Times about the establishment of the gay football supporters network, I replied to it and went to my first meeting which I think was around the autumn of 1989.
Josh: So you mentioned you felt vulnerable and alone at those games. Can you compare and contrast what it was like when you finally joined the GFSN compared to going by yourself?
Darryl: It was just… It was just like heaven really. Because I always thought that I was probably only one of a few gay men that supported football for football’s sake and that was really into the game. When I went to GFSN I just found so many more that were really into football and I thought “God, this is brilliant”, and the friends that I made then we are still very close friends now. It was a real upheaval, a real change in my life, because football means so much to me, that though 1989 to say 1991 when I finally bought season tickets is, when I look back, quite important, because if I used to go on my own, you hear comments and you would have to just keep quiet, or if people made the odd sexist remark you would have to almost comply with it or just forget about it. Now with a group, we could keep ourselves to ourselves and be quite open you know, particularly at home games.
Josh: So which hurt you more, was it the remarks or the chants or the singing?
Darryl: I would say sometimes the remarks in a sense, because you would be talking to people around you and then suddenly they could say these remarks. And also, of course, being Asian there was also a lot of racism that was still prevalent, and in fact that I would say was much more cutting and much more horrible particularly in the 70s. When I came back in the late 80s to football after university, there were far more black players, so that had subsided slightly, you know the aggressive chanting, but there were still remarks of a racist nature.
Josh: Before you joined the GFSN when you were at games and you felt alone, where did you gather the strength to be above it and to endure it?
Darryl: I have to be honest, I didn’t. And that is why I stopped going to games. I only went to one or two maybe per season which for someone who is really into football a bit sad really. So I had to watch it on television and also I did have some straight friends as well that I went to games with who appreciated the fact that I was gay. But then GFSN came along and that really changed my life.
Josh: You mentioned one of the most striking stories from the book when you were in Brighton, and you are at a Brighton Tottenham game in 2011, a pre-season friendly. Can you kind of take the listeners through that day?
Darryl: I moved down to Brighton in the March of that year because my work has relocated to London Bridge, I have got friends in Brighton. It made sense. London had become, for a middle-aged man who lived on his own, quite lonely and not friendly and quite expensive. Brighton seemed more gay-friendly in particular but just also more neighborly, so I moved there. And the first game of Brighton’s inaugural season in the Amex Stadium which is a great Stadium was against Tottenham, it was a friendly. So I went along and I got quite upset really because again there was homophobic chanting. I can’t even say it started off mild-mannered and in a humorous way because I don’t think any of that is actually banter from the Tottenham fans. And there I was, as a gay, on my own, again confronted by my own side singing this chanting. I felt again, quite angry this time, that I could not challenge it or do something things about it. I think it was then when I began to think, looking back on all the years, maybe somethings have not changed. Maybe I need to write a book, and that is when I started to think about writing this book.
Josh: In that moment when they were chanting, you say you could not do anything. Is it possible to talk to security or do you think they would not listen to that?
Darryl: That’s a great point there really and I didn’t, I just sat there seething and looking angry and not involved. I think the problem is in those days when it is a whole group chanting there’s very little the stewards can do other than sit down, ask people to sit down. I suppose what I would like to see a public address system, so people saying on the public systems addressing the issues etc… When it’s a remark from an individual it’s easier to take up, and I don’t feel confident enough when it’s a group I have to say, even now after 30 years of being out on the terraces confronted a whole group. I think I would find that difficult, unless there were people with me.
Josh: Yeah it must be scary.
Darryl: Well I think it is and particularly when it is your own fans…
Josh: Later that year Brighton actually came to Tottenham.
Darryl: Yes, it was actually a couple of seasons later, I think it was 2013 or maybe even 2014. We played them in the League Cup game and the Proud Lilywhites have just been formed and so this was a great test of our role really because this is our manor, this is our home White Hart Lane. And we don’t want a repetition of what happened there.
Josh: And thanks for bringing it up because I wanted to get into the Tottenham Lilywhites, which is the gay supporters group of Tottenham. For people that don’t know what is the role of the Lilywhites?
Darryl: Well in about 2011-2012, there was a real wave of feeling that some of the chantings, in particular, the Spurs were singing at the time against Sol Campbell who went to Arsenal was particularly offensive, and particularly racist and homophobic. For their credit, the Spurs management and the Spurs authority, the club, stood against it by saying that anyone found chanting homophobic remarks would be barred from the ground. And they also approached the GFSN to set up a fan group supporters club for LGBT fans. Now it’s a real recognition I suppose of our group, it is also an inclusion because of course, the groups that I have in the 80’s were predominantly male and predominantly gay. Now we are talking about lesbians and bisexuals, trans people joining in as well. And an official recognition, so that felt like all your summers come home at once you know when we got official backing and recognition and help. There were things in the program about us, there were things in the website. And most importantly there was a massive rainbow flag at games which I’m sure your listeners have seen because that has gone all over the world through television.
The Football Community Reactions
Josh: You mentioned in the book that you get the opportunity to meet a lot of people, a lot of players, a lot of referees. How did you find their reaction to the work that the Lilywhites and a lot of the gay supporter groups or networks are doing?
Darryl: I just still think however in terms of homophobia that we need to up our game. I think that you find it quite easy to get players to speak about racism and anti-racism and also women’s football, I think that there’s still a problem of top-flight footballers speaking out against Homophobia. I was really pleased to see Paul Pogba say recently that he would have no problems if a gay player came out. It would be great to see a lot more of that, particularly from international players. Some of them are quite silent on the issue, and I think sometimes there’s a fear of being associated with the issue, I can’t understand it but it does seem to be that fear. So I would like to see much more endorsement of football against homophobia campaigns coming from players themselves. I still think there’s a slight tendency to talk about racism and women’s football but not really talking about the issues affecting the LGBT fans.
FA Not Leading by Example
Josh: What do you think that teams or the FA or FIFA could better do? Because obviously there’s only so much you could do with the players.
Darryl: Well yeah the authorities, I’m very sad and I say that in the book. The FA, for example, are led by people who think they won’t see out gay players, because of the hostilities that would generate among supporters, I think that is the wrong thing to say. I think that is the wrong thing to say in principle but I think it’s practically it’s wrong because I actually think things have changed on the Terraces and will do if players come out. So sometimes I think the authorities, particularly the FA, seem quite muddled and scared about the issue when they really should not be. I think they need to grasp the initiative and really support campaigns. Not just when a player comes out, or if a player comes out, but continuously. One of the things I talk about in my book, for example, is that equality training, people are sent on courses if they make a remark or etc… I think that every coach, every manager, every chairman if you are fit for purpose then you need to have some equality awareness from the beginning. So I would like to see everyone involved in a training program, not just those who say offend. If we were giving that clear a message, then I think we will see much more young gay men and women in academies coming out at the earlier point of their career and then be able to be gay or lesbian or bisexual or trans throughout their career.
Josh: What we saw with the Eni Aluko situation, I mean obviously it’s different with the racism, but she talks about how there needs to be some equality training by all coaches as well.
Darryl: Yeah definitely. And I think that is the issue, I think that the FA seems to think that it’s supporters that will react. Now yeah there may be a reaction but then you tackle that. I think there is still an acceptance of a Macho, very bullying, abusive culture on the bench and in the dressing room. And I think that’s persuasive, and I think it persuades a lot of players who are gay not to come out. That’s where the real issues need to be tackled. The more and more that I speak to footballers or as you mentioned the recent case, the more and more it’s becoming clear that it’s that culture within football, not on the terraces, that needs to change.
Who will be the first?
Josh: You mentioned footballers kind of need to come out. But also what about coaches and trainers? I know the Bournemouth’s photographer is very open, and she’s transgendered. What about coaches, scouts?
Darryl: Oh yeah, it must be all the way through. We were talking earlier about a referee who has come out, the first professional referee. So yes it must be through the whole of football. We got to remember at the end of the day that football is a career for a lot of people and a workplace, and like any other workplace or career, it’s now not acceptable for gay men to have to remain in the closet. So football really needs to catch up.
Josh: So how long it might take before someone comes out, like a coach or a player?
Darryl: I think it might be in that we might see that in the academies with the younger players, and hopefully we will see that in the not too distant future. And I think that once one or two come out there will be a general acceptance like it was with the profile of black players etc… and women referees, I think there might be a backlash, to begin with but then I think over time people would say that whatever people’s sexuality is that isn’t a barrier, it’s about how good that player is and how fair and respectful that coach is.
We Are Losing Gay Footballers
Josh: If you were a football player or coach would you come out?
Darryl: I think I would have to because I have in my life came out where I worked and in my family and to my employees and employers and my friends etc., I could not envision not being out to everyone. I could not envision the pressure that that would put on me, I think what happens probably is that a lot of gay footballers because of that pressure quit the game. I think we are losing gay footballers at an earlier age than we think. And no I would have to be out but I’m not good enough to play football.
We’re Queer And We Should Be Here: The perils and pleasures of being a gay football fan by Darryl Telles is available from Amazon HERE and from all good bookshops.
Joshua Schneider-Weiler is the founder and host of the Football Autobiography Show. Visit their website www.footballautobiographyshow.com