“Inclusion is massive.”
Those were the words of AFC Bournemouth captain Simon Francis ahead of an informative discussion on equality and diversity within football.
A select panel and around 100 guests gathered at Vitality Stadium as the Premier League club once again hosted Proud Cherries, its official LGBT+ supporter group.
Panellists included Chris Paouros, co-founder of Pride in Football and a member of the FA’s inclusion advisory group, ex-pro Anwar Uddin, diversity and campaigns manager for the Football Supporters’ Federation, Ryan Atkin, the first openly gay professional referee, broadcaster Anne-Marie Batson, Natalie Washington, an openly trans footballer at Rushmoor Community FC, and Jimmy Glass, AFC Bournemouth player liaison officer.
The event was hosted by Sky Sports presenter Mark McAdam and opened by Sophie Cook, both Proud Cherries patrons and guests included AFC Bournemouth women’s team manager Steve Davies and his squad, Proud Lilywhites, Fratton Fever, Villa and Proud and Pride in Football.
Speaking to afcb.co.uk, the Cherries skipper Francis said: “As a football club, it’s great to be involved with these events.
“Inclusion is massive and we want everyone to be included because, as a football club, we are huge on that.
“We want to welcome absolutely everybody, all walks of life, race, nationality, sexuality, everything. We want to grow as a football club and this is the way forward.”
McAdam, who came out in 2014, worked for AFC Bournemouth before moving into broadcasting with Sky Sports.
He told afcb.co.uk: “From the moment I walked through the door in 2000, this club was all about the community spirit. It was about the community which propped up the club and kept it going.
“When you look at events like this, it gives you an indication as to just how important the community is to the club and to have a Proud Cherries LGBT fans’ group shows again the progress the club is making.
“The work Louise Clarke has done has been superb and it’s all about making fans feel like they can come to games, they can be themselves, they can be comfortable in their own skin and still support the team they love and that’s what makes tonight’s event so special.”
Proud Cherries was the brainchild of Louise Clarke, who told afcb.co.uk: “The club has been amazing.
It’s always felt natural and has never felt like they are ticking a box or they are doing this because it looks good. It’s a genuine care for the fan-base and the community around them.
“I just want to keep seeing it grow, keep the brilliant relationship with the club and encourage new people to come and enjoy football.”
Guests came from Birmingham, Weymouth, London and Portsmouth and Space Youth Project, The Shores/Over The Rainbow and Inclusive Community Church had stalls at the event.
Uddin told afcb.co.uk: “We are here to celebrate Proud Cherries and I think they are an amazing LGBT supporters’ group which wants to engage with the local community and actually show the country that Bournemouth is an inclusive environment.
“The fans’ diversity campaign is doing great work all over the country and it’s really important when we have a Premier League club supporting our work.
“It’s great a Premier League club can support fans in trying to make the game as inclusive as possible and try to get more people in the town involved in the club.”