Among those inducted onto the The Football Black List last week was Liz Ward, director of programmes at Stonewall – a non-profit organisation that stands for LGBTQ+ people everywhere.
Stonewall also run Stonewall F.C. – the world’s most successful LGBT+ friendly football club.
The Football Black List highlights positive black influencers in football: those who are inspiring the next generation.
As Black History Month comes to an end, the Sports Gazette spoke to Ward about the importance of championing Black role models in football as well as the role of organisations such as Stonewall in progressing inclusivity within the sport.
What the Football Black List Means to Ward
Since its induction in 2008, the Football Black List has featured illustrious names such as Raheem Sterling, Ian Wright and Rachel Yankey but also shines a light on those in all areas of the game.
The categories are: players, administration, coaching and management, community and grassroots, LGBTQ+, media and practitioners.
Those inducted this year range from Alex Scott to Marcus Rashford MBE to Patsy Andrews – a grassroots referee in Leicester.
On her inclusion Ward said: “It means the world to be listed alongside these absolute legends and icons of football.
“I live and breathe football, always have done since I can remember and to be recognized in relation to my identity makes me feel extremely proud.”
“We see racist incidents happen weekly in football – and it’s one of the reasons I found playing when I was younger so hard.
“What we see now though, are more and more allies standing up to call it out, which makes me feel rather hopeful.”
Black representation in football
Highlighting influential Black figures in football remains vital with Black representation in many areas of the game still nowhere near as high as it should be.
“As senior leaders go, I’m fairly young, working class and Black Mixed race, so I feel very proud to be shaking up the status quo, even just by existence!”
One of these areas with low Black representation is management. There is just one Black manager in both the Premier League and WSL.
“I am fascinated by this issue and contemplate it regularly.
“I know there are some incredible leaders such as Chris Grant OBE who is addressing this head on, and it helps when we see managers such as Patrick Viera begin to have success in the Premier League.”
“All in all, I think there’s something a little broken in the machine of football and I hope the next generation change it.”
Since joining Stonewall, Ward has become a huge part of an organisation that strives to make football, and the wider world, a more inclusive place.
“From sitting down with big clubs such as Manchester United and Liverpool FC, to being on Panels with the Senior Leadership team at PWC, I have the privilege every day of walking into rooms and trying to make them better.
“I work alongside some incredible colleagues and recently I witnessed them work tirelessly to support LGBTQ+ Afghans be evacuated, landing here in England. Witnessing that was pretty special.”
Clubs like Stonewall F.C. do fantastic work in promoting acceptance for LGBTQ+ players in football.
This is aided in the women’s game by several openly gay role models such as Pernille Harder and Magda Eriksson.
Men’s football, however, is still a long way from this point.
Recently Josh Cavallo, now one of the first openly gay men’s professional players, came out to widespread support from the football community.
Ward believes this is a big moment that has the potential to inspire others:
“I think this is huge! I can’t imagine the impact Josh’s Story will have on young LGBTQ+ players in the game right now.
“That said, we have loads of amazing clubs and communities where playing football doesn’t have to come at the expense of your identity. Millwall Romans, Stonewall FC and London Titans are all great examples of men’s LGBT football teams.”
Thought on the Newcastle Takeover
In contrast to these steps towards inclusivity for the LGBTQ+ community in football, the recent takeover of Newcastle United by the Saudi-backed consortium feels like a step back.
Saudi Arabia bans same sex activity and heavily restricts women’s rights. Allowing them what will become a prominent role in English football is dangerous.
Ward believes: “We’re coming up to Rainbow Laces season and this campaign should be a moment for a much-needed conversation within the Newcastle United FC community.
“It’s important that all football clubs play their part in creating a world where LGBTQ+ people can thrive, including in sport.”
“We know that NUFC have played a really proud role in supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion across their community so I feel it’s time to listen to the voices of LGBTQ+ people within the club community and for the club to use its influence to build commitment to LGBTQ+ people’s human rights both here and in KSA.”
Despite obvious progression, the need to promote inclusivity and celebrate diversity within football remains clear.
Organisations such as Stonewall and The Football Black List, and people like Liz Ward, are vitally important in continuing to do just that.
The full list of this years inductees can be found here: Football Black List 2021: Man Utd forward Marcus Rashford and pundit Alex Scott named on list – BBC Sport.
For more Football content on this subject visit: Football Archives – Sports Gazette.