Grassroots footballer Zack Leader was shortlisted for the prestigious FvH Hero prize at the 2023 Football v Homophobia Awards, and was also part of the Lincolnshire FA delegation that claimed the County FA category; in this blog, he explains why the Awards matter so much…
By Zack Leader
To be shortlisted in the FvH Hero category was entirely unexpected.
My mum and some family friends told me they’d nominated me but I never thought any more of it until I saw my name on the list!
I went from feeling very low, having been on the receiving end of homophobia in football, to then turning that into fuel to make positive change.
I wanted to make sure others know they don’t have to be in that position. Being recognised for doing that was humbling and special.
From a Lincolnshire FA perspective, it was phenomenal to see our county being recognised for the work we’ve been doing to make football more inclusive, safe and enjoyable for everyone.
It’s testament to the passion and hard work that Jordan Mason puts in to what he does. From the LGBTQ+ Inclusive Accredited Club Programme and LGBTQ+ Workshops, to the FvH Weekend that saw us address 9,000 Lincoln City fans and host a tournament and Q&A panel discussion, we feel that we’re having genuine impact in this space.
The fact we have 14 players being part of the county’s first-ever LGBTQ+ sessions and to see them now being taken on by a large club is living proof of that impact. None of it is possible without the work Jordan does – I’m merely fortunate enough to help him along the way where I can.
The FvH Awards are really important. It’s not just about showing appreciation but also recognising and rewarding the people who are doing everything they can to make a difference.
In a lot of circumstances, the people leading this charge for LGBTQ+ inclusion are the same people who’ve been most affected by it.
We’re the ones who were made to feel that football wasn’t a place for us simply because of who we are. We stood up to homophobic behaviour and every day we’re changing the game out of its deep-rooted ways to make it a game that everyone is welcome to be a part of, whatever way that looks.
Whether that be setting up supporters groups that make people feel safer and enjoy watching their team more; creating opportunities that get LGBTQ+ people back out on a pitch with a ball at their feet for the first time in years; or fighting to make sure homophobia is eradicated from the game entirely, these amazing people have gone from feeling like they don’t belong to making life-changing differences for others in football. That deserves to be recognised.
Reflecting on 2023, it’s hard to pinpoint one specific person as there are so many brilliant people who make me want to do more!
Proud Lilywhites always inspire me – seeing them all being unapologetically themselves – and having people like Jake Daniels out as gay in the professional game reminds me that I have a place in football too.
Sometimes, people come up to me and say I’ve inspired them to take up inclusion work or get back into football and that’s incredibly encouraging.
I coach at Lincoln United LGBTQ+ sessions every week and that’s often an overwhelmingly positive feeling for me. We get to work with people who have faced so many barriers in life and in football. They come to the sessions every week and enjoy being in everyone’s company and playing – it’s just magical.
My hopes for 2024 are to see this club grow exponentially and turn into a team that looks to enter the GFSN league. That will give these amazing people a place to come and play competitive football in an environment where they feel safe and can be authentic.
I’d also love to see more clubs join our LGBTQ+ accredited club programme at Lincolnshire FA and of course, I’d like to see less incidents of homophobia.
Having a male player in the Premier League come out and show the world that LGBTQ+ players can play at the highest level would naturally be a big game-changing moment too.
I also want to see trans inclusion spoken about positively in football and for The FA to stand strong against those people who call for trans people to be excluded from the game.
The awards gala in Manchester is an immensely special night. I wasn’t sure what to expect ahead of last year’s ceremony but I was absolutely blown away, not just by the inspirational people in the room and the unbelievable speeches given, but by the event itself and the hard work that everyone at FvH puts in to making it happen.
From the National Football Museum venue, to making sure everyone left with an award, to the guests, and aspects like the programmes and presentations – everything was superb.
It’s a fantastic event and I hope as many people as possible attend on February 23 – get tickets here!
Even if you’re not shortlisted and you just want to celebrate inclusion in the game, you’ll be made very welcome. Take it from me!