Danny Silk: An interview with The Yorkshire Terriers FC
In this month’s interview with the community, I had the honour of meeting up with Robert Graham, Chairman and Liam Todd, Social Media/Fundraiser from The Yorkshire Terriers.
I arranged to meet Robert Graham and Liam Todd the organiser of Yorkshire Terriers FC and ask them a few questions regarding the group.
Hi guys, so tell me about the Terriers and how long it has been running?
The Yorkshire Terriers is officially Yorkshire’s only running LGBT+ football team. We have been running for 21 years, starting in the late 90’s, starting as a 5-a-side team part of the GFSN (Gay Football Supporters Network). It started off with a few people getting together for a kick about and then we were challenged to a match against a team in Manchester, from which we grew and grew to the point we started in a national league in 2002. The league originally had 4 teams in it but because of the popularity of the sport and as more people became aware, more people joined. Realising that there were other forums for them other than your ‘pub league’ football teams where you felt like you had to be in the closet, or thinking sport wasn’t for them the interest ‘exploded’. So now the national league has 2 divisions, which we are currently playing in the top division.
The league you have just mentioned is that a LGBT+ league?
Yes it is an LGBT+ league. It’s a friendly league and we have players of all kinds of sexuality playing for us. In the past we have had females, although we don’t at the moment, anyone is more than welcome to join. We have had 5 or 6 girls playing for us at any one time but they branched off and created their own team. We are open to all sexualities too; you don’t have to be gay to be apart of the team… “You don’t need to complete a test”
That is really impressive because you find in a lot of sports and sporting teams; it is solely for male or female never a mixed team.
It is tricky in certain sports to have mixed players and can be with football. We used to have issues with the FA (Football Association) affiliation because we couldn’t have mixed teams but it changed through the league we are in. I know there are teams out there currently with mixed players, for example Cardiff, Bristol and Leicester. We have even had players from the Trans community play with and for us in the past.
How has the games/matches/league changed since starting?
It started off as a friendly knock about but over the years I have noticed it becoming a much more competitive league. What I have noticed over the years, when it started it was more a social event and the football followed after but now it has reversed.
Are you the longest running LGBT+ team in Leeds?
Yes I would say we are the longest running LGBT+ team in West Yorkshire.
What clubs (if any) have been running longer than the Terriers?
There are longer running teams for example Stonewall in London, which have been running longer and leaps and bounds above everybody else as a club; but they helped to set the standard. Village Manchester has been running 2-3 years longer than us. Then we have Leicester who I think launched around the same time, possibly a year older. All the teams formed for the same reason, to provide a place for LGBT+ footballers and supporters to come together and share that interest.
How involved are you guys with the Gay Games, I noticed you are playing this August in Paris? And is there any other international games you are involved in?
Yes we are there in Paris in August. There are a few events that have kicked off over the years, but the two main ones for us are; the IGLFA, which is International Gay Lesbian Football Association, which hold a football tournament, which we entered in 2005 in Copenhagen. This was the Terriers first international football match. The Gay Games is a collection of different sports; we have never entered before this year due to expense and timings of the event. I did get to go myself (Robert) as part of another team to Chicago in 2006. We are going for the first time as a club to Paris to compete. Paris is probably going to give me a heart attack (laughs), having to organise the whole thing, from travel to accommodation, making sure the whole team get out. Having done this before I know how difficult it is, playing two games a day during the event which will be hard so we will have to ensure we have enough players for all the games. Again it’s the expense, which can be the main obstacle for the team.
Have you got much support for the funding of the event?
Not as much as I’d like, we have applied to for support in funding from the IGLFA, to get discounted rooms etc. Liam heads up our fundraising and we had a fundraising event in November to raise money for the club, which was really well attended. With this event the players need to pay the registration fee so if we can raise money towards their fee that would be great. If we manage to get 20 people to come to the event to play for us the registration fees alone come to around £2000.
On the 18th March we have a football tournament coming up at John Charles Centre of Sport, which helps funds future events.
What are your positions on the pitch?
Liam is a striker
Robert I suppose I’m a defender these days
What does your training sessions involve?
We tend not to have a formal training session but have a kick about with who can attend.
We decided from the get go that we would never have an official training session due to the different levels of skill that our members have, from basic who might struggle to keep up to the semi-pro players who would probably get bored. It’s supposed to be fun rather than a load of shuttle runs.
Do you have a good pool of players?
We could always benefit from more players and regardless of ability, everyone is welcome. But we are so busy now, much more than when I first joined (Robert) the team. We are involved in many leagues and we will probably play in 50 games this year. We are in the National League with the GFSN, a Cup Competition and Midland Unity League, FA Flexi League, which is for teams in Leeds and West Yorkshire (open league/non-gay) as well as the Gay Games in Paris and various 5-a-side tournaments. The amount of leagues we are in ensures that all the team gets to play from the semi-pro through to the players less skilled or new to the team, which helps build confidence and improve skill levels. You will never improve your skill level sat on the bench the entire time, but at the same time you want to ensure you win the match.
Are the Terriers open to ‘Newbies’? How would they get involved?
Yes…. We have a website, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. I would suggest Facebook, as that would get a quicker response; we have 4-5 members who have access to the Facebook account so someone will respond quickly. We do work with the Universities, which helps promote the team and draft in new players
What is your view on Homophobia in football?
There is still homophobia in sport and especially football and it is still a big and relevant subject. 22% of all discrimination in football was homophobic. These statistics were released this month. 1% of the 22% homophobic abuse was in women’s football the remaining amount was in men’s football.
Do the Terriers receive any Homophobic abuse? On or off the pitch?
(Liam) I have not experienced it for a long time, then a few months back I experienced homophobic abuse, twice in one game. It is very rare to receive any abuse in LGBT+ games.
(Robert) It is rare but it does happen, homophobic abuse can come from other LGBT+ players, which is odd and I think sometimes just comes down to language. There has been occasions when it has been said when it’s more heat of the moment. We do not condone it but the competitions we are in do get very competitive as I mentioned before. Over the years I would say I have become immune to it.
(Liam) End of the day you might call us a ‘BUNCH OF FAGGOTS’ but you have just been beaten by these ‘Faggots’
(Robert) But it has got easier over the years and it happens less often. I think it will always be there to some extent especially in professional football, you have big crowds watching matches and some of those crowds do have a ‘mob’ mentality. But as a team, even when we play in the ‘Flexi-League’, the opportunity/danger is there but we haven’t experienced it much and had some really friendly games. Year’s ago we were sponsored by ‘Bent’ magazine, which was great but arriving at a match with “BENT” written across your chest, wasn’t ideal. I remember we were playing against a team from Barnsley and they were unaware that we were an LGBT+ team, until we arrived and had “BENT” written across our chest. But there was no hassle or trouble and at the end of the game they all came back to the Bridge for drinks and really enjoyed themselves.
Do you many supporters coming down to watch the matches?
Depends on the weather and location. We get a few but not loads, you might get a few family members or partners
Where do you play when playing at home?
We generally flip between Middleton and Batley Sports Centre.
Talk to me about the pitches you play on, I remember growing up constantly being covered in mud playing football.
We tend to play on 3G pitches now, which is more reliable than playing on grass. The weather can change in a matter of hours and cancel a game and if a team has travelled from all over the country for a match and paid for hotel rooms, we need to do our best to make sure it isn’t rained out.
What is a 4G pitch?
A pitch comprised of artificial grass, 4th Generation. You do get these black little pellets everywhere, anyone who has played 5-a-side will tell you about them. If we are playing a 5-a-side we tend to go to John Charles, which is a good stadium to play a 5-a-side football match.
Is there a fee for becoming a Terrier?
There is an annual membership fee to join the club and then a subscription model so you would put towards training and matches. The money goes towards pitch hire, referees, lighting and cost of travel for away games. We do try to subsidise the players for travel, which is why fundraising and sponsorship is so important.
Who was the person who started the Terriers?
It was started by a guy called Pete Shoard. Pete was the regional manager for the GFSN, so he was the point of contact for people who wanted to organise a bit of a kick about. He took a step back about 10 years ago but he still keeps in touch. There was Mick Ward, Tim Conway and Gary Todd starting back in the 90’s amongst others.
Do you socialise as a team outside of football?
Yes we do, we try to get the team together as regular as possible. But with all the matches planned for this year we find a lot of the team prefer down time with their partners and family in between matches.
Do you think Homophobia will ever change in football? Can you see any professional footballers ‘coming out’ in the near future?
I wouldn’t want to be a professional footballer and come out. Any player that comes out will have to prepare for a lot of attention and maybe abuse from the fans and even other players on the pitch. There will be a majority of the fans being supportive but there will be a minority of football fans that will use it has an excuse to heckle the player and be abusive. Coming out is one of the hardest experiences anybody from the LGBT+ community has to go through, but imagine what it was like 10,20 or 30 years ago? Chances are there were (and still are) LGBT+ players in professional football leagues told to be kept quiet to save embarrassment to the team and the club.
There was/is a famous racing driver Danny Watts who didn’t want to win and the press to find out about his sexuality, all he wanted to do was race “I just wanted to drive and race, and be the best person I could be on the track.” Danny had to retire and coach before he felt comfortable coming out and that was a shame because he was a good driver, but those actions he took to avoid the spotlight.
You had Justin Fashanu, who was the first openly gay player in professional football and he ended up committing suicide due to allegations of sexual assault. If you read Justin Fashanu’s story it is very sad. For anybody who chooses to come they’re going to be known as the ‘Gay Footballer’. If the player that chooses to come out is the best player on their team, they will probably get more support from the team and fans. But if the player isn’t the strongest or in the top 5 there will be added pressure on them until society changes.
Rugby and Olympic Athletes seem to be leading the way in supporting players that have chosen to come out. In rugby you have Keegan Hirst, Gareth Thomas and another 5-6 more open players, which isn’t a lot when you think of the amount of players player rugby league and union, but it is 8-9 more players than football.
Leeds did have Robbie Rogers who came out but felt he had to move away from the English game to do it, but as for football players it is very hush, hush and not many people do speak of their sexuality.
Do you think it will get to the point where the press is scoring social media/dating apps, trying to out footballers, like they did during the Olympic Games in Rio?
Yes probably and that was horrendous what happened there and it is likely to happen again, until the press stop using Homophobic articles to sell papers. It shows what lengths the press take to sell a paper, without any consideration for the individual.
How are you guys doing this season?
We are doing well. In the main league we are mid-table and just beat the top of the league. This is probably the best team we have ever had.
Here are the Team Fixtures over the next few months….
· 5-a-side football tournament at John Charles Centre... 18th March 2018
· Yorkshire Terriers V Nottingham (Home match)… 25th march 2018
· Yorkshire Terriers V Birmingham (Home match)… 1st April 2018 (GFSN Cup)
· Birmingham V Yorkshire Terriers (Away match)… 7th April 2018
· Birmingham V Yorkshire Terriers (Away match)… 22nd April 2018
· Yorkshire Terriers V Leicester (Home match)… 5th May 2018
· Yorkshire Terriers V Leicester (Home match)… 6th May 2018
The training/kick about will be happening over the next few weeks
For more information regarding the team, joining or supporting below are a few links to their website and social media