Match of the Gay!

May 20, 2010

Caomhan Keane chats to the Dublin Devils and the Phoenix Tigers, two of the city’s gay soccer teams

It’s 12 years since the suicide of the world’s only openly gay soccer star, Justin Fashanu. Despite the fact that nearly 4000 professional football players line up each weekend in the UK, of every colour, class and creed, no one else has yet come out of the closet and onto the football pitch, fortifying the belief that playing for the other team is a sure way to lose your place on a professional one.

But there are some people bucking the trend on a grass-roots level. Since the early-noughties, three gay-friendly or exclusively gay soccer teams – the Dublin Devils, the Irish Shamrocks and the Phoenix Tigers – have been kicking away, and indeed, growing in numbers.

“It provides something other than the club scene for gay people,” says Bill O’Rourke, 35, chairman of the Dublin Devils, a team that first met in Tallaght in 2005. (They were known for the first year, brilliantly, as Men United GFC.) “All ages and all abilities can get together, play some sport and get some exercise.”

The Devils compete in an Astro league all year round, either five- or 11-a-side, and mainly against straight teams. During the summer, they go overseas and have represented Ireland at tournaments in Argentina, the United States and the UK. This July they will be taking part in the Gay Games in Cologne.

Even when playing against straight teams, sexuality is never an issue, according to Bill. “When we go onto a pitch we are there to play football. We are a gay club, but we don’t make an issue with other teams and they have never made one with us.”

Predominantly gay, the Devils do have a few straight members too, who just enjoy the atmosphere. Phil Lenzenhuber, 28, is from Germany and works for the YMCA. “I played a few trial games for other Astro league teams in Dublin and when I came across these boys they were very nice and weren’t macho. They were up for a bit of craic and having a laugh.”

Phoenix Tigers FC, founded six years ago, is strictly made up of gay and bi-sexual women. They used to meet casually in Phoenix Park, then decided to advertise – from there their numbers grew and grew. Now they have over 85 members. “We just play amongst ourselves,” says manager Dee O’Brien, 39. “We might play another gay team in Belfast and take part in any tournaments that are be going on, but we’re mainly social.”

Dee, like many others, felt that joining the Tigers was a first step in connecting with the gay scene. “There are a few people who, when they first come, say, ‘I don’t really do the scene. I’m just interested in meeting people, outside of town.’”

“A lot of players join us who are on the cusp of coming out,” agrees Dublin Devil Eoghan Martin, 29. “It’s their first venture into the big gay world and bars and clubs are a bit full-on. So they come along to the football first. Then after a while they become a little more comfortable going out and enjoying themselves.”

“It’s widened my circle of friends,” says John McAree, 29. “I didn’t know that many gay people. When I was out on the scene, I only had one or two friends. But now I go out and I bump into people [I know] all of the time.”

Others have grown tired of the scene altogether. “It’s full of people who go to [lesbian nightclub] Kiss, people who I don’t feel I have much in common with,” says Natalie Dunne, 34. “It’s all about drinking and not really getting to know each other. So the Phoenix Tigers is a really good outlet for my mental health, to meet people who are in the same situation that’s not work- or drink-related.”

Sometimes single members come looking for love or to expand their friend base, the Devils explain; once they get into a relationship, they tend to hibernate and don’t turn up as often. But that’s not always the case. As Joseph Johnson concludes, “I have friends in work and college but I am also looking to go on the gay scene and meet someone. That can be intimidating if you don’t have a social circle in Dublin. The football team is a good way of meeting people. People come to make friends or to find a boyfriend, but I liked both so I stayed.”,


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