Richard Arnold, the Group Managing Director of Manchester United, announced today that a team from the world-famous football club will play a friendly match against the UK’s longest-running gay football club: Stonewall FC.
Arnold made the announcement during closing statements at the Team Pride: LGBT in Sports conference, which took place at the iconic Leadenhall Building in the city of London.
The event, which looked at how big business can encourage the sporting world to be more LGBT-inclusive, was organized by Aon and supported by Manchester United, Adidas, EY, Accenture, Aviva, Barclays and several other blue-chip companies.
Also taking part were LGBT advocacy organization Stonewall, with chief executive Ruth Hunt speaking about its rainbow laces campaign to kick homophobia out of football, and Mark Gonnella, Communications Director for Arsenal FC; a key supporter of the laces campaign.
Arnold participated in the opening and closing of the conference, and spoke about Manchester United’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, using a quote from Sir Alex Ferguson to highlight the club’s ethos: ‘It’s impossible to win a football game with 11 goal keepers. You need different talents but you need to work as a team.’
‘The diversity of our staff highlights the importance of teamwork,’ he went on to say. ‘The focus is on the 11 players, but there are over 2,000 members of staff involved in putting on a game at Old Trafford.
‘Inclusion is important … The power of sport to bring people together has been underestimated.’
He spoke about the club’s involvement with the Kick it Out campaign, which works to eradicate homophobia and racism in football, and closed the day by announcing two further initiatives to demonstrate Manchester United’s commitment to standing up for LGBTI inclusion.
In their next premiership match against Arsenal (due to take place 28 February), captains from both teams will exchange a pair of giant rainbow laces, in support of the Stonewall campaign; the match is likely to be watched by millions of football fans around the globe.
Secondly, Manchester United are to play Stonewall FC, the gay football club celebrating its 25th anniversary this month.
‘As some have suggested this may be a little unfair,’ said Arnold said – commenting lightheartedly on the differences in skills between the two sides – he went on to clarify that, ‘it will be the [Manchester United] veterans and staff XI team.’
Although not Manchester United’s first team, the friendly fixture remains symbolic. After the conference, a spokesperson for Stonewall FC told Gay Star News that the club was thrilled to be celebrating their silver anniversary with a match against arguably the most famous club in the world.
Jamie Feldman, a trustee and player with Stonewall FC, said: ‘It’s fantastic that Manchester United are showing a desire to want to get involved with helping in the battle against homophobia in football.
‘They’re following in the footsteps of Arsenal, who hosted us at the Emirates Stadium two years ago. It’s fantastic moment that today, on our 25th anniversary, Manchester United – considered by many one of the biggest clubs in the world – have announced they’re going to host us for a day.
‘With continued support from key partners – Aon, Manchester United and Barclays – it enables us to be at the forefront of what is still an issue; trying to beat homophobia in football.’
A spokesperson for Manchester United’s press office confirmed the plans for the game but said that a date had not yet been set. He said the event would ‘probably be played at the Aon Training Complex’, where the first team does its training.
He was unable to say which veterans may be involved as it, ‘will depend on player availability at the time.’
The TeamPride: LGBT in Sport event also featured by former NBA basketball player John Amaechi, and a panel discussion with rugby player Keegan Hirst, boxer Nicola Adams and footballer Casey Stoney, among others. A fuller report will appear on Gay Star News tomorrow.