Pride Football makes progress
Melbourne Rovers lose both cups but come away with spirits high.
The annual Justin Fashanu and Julie Murray Cups, part of Pride Football Australia, will stay in Sydney this year, but the Melbourne Rovers teams will be returning with their spirits high.
The Melbourne Rovers sides both succumbed to their NSW counterparts, with the men losing 2-1 to the Sydney Rovers, and the women defeated 5-0 by the Flying Bats.
Pride Football Australia is an annual tournament where the Melbourne Rovers play the men’s Sydney Rangers and women’s Flying Bats teams, celebrating the inclusivity of football, Melbourne Rovers president Heath Wilson said.
“The Justin Fashanu Cup was founded on the premise of the great Sydney-Melbourne rivalry, as well as honouring Justin Fashanu, who was the first openly gay professional footballer,” he said.
“He was also the first black footballer to command a transfer fee of more than a million pounds.
“He was a gay icon, but took his own life in the late 1990s.
“The Justin Fashanu Cup was dedicated to him in 2008, and celebrates the inclusivity of soccer.”
Similarly, the Julie Murray Cup is named after one of Australia’s greatest ever footballers, Julie Murray.
She was the first female Australian footballer to be signed to an overseas club, and the first to captain the Matildas at two World Cups.
The tournament’s host changes from year to year – in October this year, the Melbourne Rovers travelled up to Sydney to play off for the tournaments.
Despite the loss, the good news is that people are starting to feel as if the attitudes surrounding gay and lesbian footballers are improving.
“Football is the great leveler,” Melbourne Rovers captain and coach Meghan Briggs said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, you can all get on the field and play.
“It’s a great avenue to start a conversation where someone who may be prejudiced might say, ‘Oh, they’re a really good footballer, so they might be a really good person as well.’”
But prejudiced attitudes are becoming less and less prominent, according to Wilson.
The Melbourne Rovers footballers also play in teams across Football Federation Victoria’s winter competitions.
He said that he personally has rarely encountered any homophobia on the pitch, but understood that it can still be a problem around the world.
It’s an attitude echoed by Briggs, who says the perceived stigma around homosexuality in society has decreased over the years.
“I want to say yes, [the stigma has gone down],” she said.
“I think in a lot of circles, and especially younger generations, there’s a lot of acceptance.
“When young people talk about gay marriage, sometimes they don’t realize that gay marriage isn’t legal in Australia in this day and age.
“And they can’t understand why.”
How much of that can directly be attributed to sport is unknown, but Briggs says it definitely helps.
“One by one, you can change people’s attitudes.”