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Proud Lilywhites have no plans to quit as they celebrate 10th anniversary

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 26 Feb 2024

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Proud Lilywhites, Tottenham’s official LGBTQI+ supporters’ group, has changed lives and the law since their inception a decade ago, but have no plans to call it a day any time soon.

Tuesday marks the organisation’s 10th anniversary and co-founder Chris Paouros acknowledged an early aim was to “put ourselves out of business” by improving equality in football and changing homophobic attitudes.

The achievements of the group include helping a member seek asylum in the UK and contributing towards the Chelsea rent boy chant being deemed a homophobic hate crime, with this past month full of activities to celebrate their milestone.

Recent men’s and women’s matches with Wolves and Aston Villa respectively were dedicated to Proud Lilywhites’ 10th anniversary with the club’s 62,850-seater stadium lit up in rainbow colours and again on February 15 when a celebration event was held at the ground, with first-teamers Ben Davies and Ellie Brazil in attendance.

“Walking down the High Road (before Wolves), I can’t even begin to tell you how I felt,” Paouros told the PA news agency.

“I come from Seven Sisters way and seeing the stadium saying celebrating 10 years of Proud Lilywhites, it almost took my breath away and I feel emotion now talking about it.

“We just made up this thing 10 years ago and thought this is a good idea!

“As a LGBTQI+ fan, you don’t always feel football is for you. And I always say that feeling when the ball is about to hit the back of the net and everyone rises in unison, you don’t get that anywhere else. For that reason I don’t want to deny that for anybody.”

Proud Lilywhites’ celebration event was attended by several key allies with Spurs’ executive director Donna-Maria Cullen, Troy Townsend of Kick It Out, Women in Football’s Jo Tongue and Olympic gold-medallist Helen Richardson-Walsh all addressing the three-figure audience, while symbolically Ledley King was also present.

Ex-Tottenham captain King has supported the group since the beginning after being in their first ever photo ahead of a Europa League clash with Dnipro on February, 27 2014.

The wheels in motion for Proud Lilywhites started weeks before that launch event at the Dnipro fixture when Paouros and five others held a meeting at White Hart Lane with then-supporters’ liaison officer Jonathan Waite to set out the group’s formation.

In the Bill Nicholson Suite, Proud Lilywhites declared their three key principles would be community, education and campaigning and with it the pathway to changing lives and the law had been set.

Later that year Proud Lilywhites put up their rainbow-coloured flag at White Hart Lane for the first time, which has been the catalyst for fans like group co-chair Lee Johnson to give football a second chance.

Paouros added: “When we first put a flag up at White Hart Lane, there was a huge hoo-ha about it.

“Now it is a permanent fixture and people are proud of it. You can say it is just a symbol to say you are inclusive, but actually that flag has brought so many people back to the game.”

The homophobic rent boy chant – aimed at Chelsea, its players and fans – had forced Johnson away from football, but the Crown Prosecution Service in 2022 recognised it as a homophobic hate crime after Proud Lilywhites alongside Chelsea Pride co-chair Tracy Brown gathered evidence through victim impact statements to ensure the law was changed.

Proud Lilywhites also work alongside Kick It Out to provide fan education, but a real source of pride revolves around helping a now-committee member to be granted asylum in the UK.

“One of our members, she is a committee member now, was seeking asylum in this country for persecution for her sexual orientation,” Paouros explained.

“And as you know if you seek asylum, you have to prove it and how on earth do you prove your sexual orientation? It is unthinkable.

“However, in 2016 or 2017, we did a stall before the north London derby where we made rainbow rock sweets, talked about Proud Lilywhites. She helped and it was photographed.

“So, that evidence of helping with the stall along with a letter we wrote supporting her case meant she was granted asylum and it is one case, but I am really proud of that.”

There are countless other examples of Proud Lilywhites’ impact with the group recently singled out for praise by Angharad ‘Haz’ James upon her departure from the women’s team, while Ashleigh Neville described them as “amazing” earlier this month.

Proud Lilywhites have twice been recognised at the Football v Homophobia awards and were the fourth LGBTQI+ football group to form in England. Now they are one of more than 50 linked to the Pride in Football network, which they helped form.

However, the groups’ work is far from over with homophobic abuse targeted at Proud Lilywhites on social media earlier this month, which means a one-time assertion no longer rings true.

“We’ve always said we want to put ourselves out of business and not be in a position where we’re doing this forever, but Donna (Cullen) said, ‘Do you really? Because look at all these people who love being part of this group’. There is something in that because it’s about how you bring people together to feel a sense of community,” Paouros conceded.

“Last year we saw an increase in homophobic chanting and abuse in professional football.

“So, we need to encourage a culture of reporting that doesn’t feel like people being grassed up.

“While we are not safe on our phones, not safe on our streets and while football can sometimes send us signals that we don’t belong, the Proud Lilywhites remains a beckon for the positive change fans can make alongside committed clubs like Spurs to ensure football really is for everyone.”

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