THE EYES of Europe have spent the last 18 days fixed to the screen watching the biggest football stars in the world.

In a time of uncertainty and multiple lockdowns, the Euro 2020 championship has brought people together.

However, for one Glasgow football team, the idea of bringing people together through the sport is not a new one.

“I don’t think people realise how daunting it is for some people to be in a traditionally masculine space which is why there is such a need for our club,” said Stuart Bonner, chairperson of Saltire Thistle FC.

Glasgow Times: Left to right: Casey Elliott (Secretary), Arron Blakey (Captain), Laurent Valentin (Manager), Stuart Bonner (Club Chairperson) and Callum McKenzie (Treasurer)Left to right: Casey Elliott (Secretary), Arron Blakey (Captain), Laurent Valentin (Manager), Stuart Bonner (Club Chairperson) and Callum McKenzie (Treasurer)

Saltire Thistle FC launched in 2009 playing both competitive and friendly matches, and is now one of Scotland’s most successful LGBTQ+ inclusive football teams.

Stuart said: “The club came out of people wanting to play the sport that they love but feeling like they had nowhere to go, that there was nowhere that welcomed them.

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“I know for me personally, I loved playing football when I was younger, but when I discovered my sexuality, I felt as though I couldn’t take part anymore.

Glasgow Times: Arron Blakey, club captainArron Blakey, club captain

“Once you come out as gay or as part of the LGBTQ+ community, there is this subconscious feeling from people that football isn’t for us.

“I went from the age of 11 until 25 not playing football because I didn’t feel like I could.”

Men’s football remains one of the biggest sports in the world without an openly gay star in its ranks, something which Stuart says still carried a stigma to this day.

Glasgow Times: Garry Jones, member of Saltire Thistle FCGarry Jones, member of Saltire Thistle FC

He said: “That’s pretty surprising if you think about it.

“We are in 2021 and there has never been an active openly gay football player in a major league.

“It does have an effect on people playing and taking an interest in the sport.

“We have made big strides in football when it comes to race, class and other issues, and people have footballers that they look up to when it comes to these issues, but there are none for the LGBTQ+ community.

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“It almost shuts the community out of the sport, which is why it is so important that places like Saltire Thistle exist for us.”

Glasgow Times: Simon Beck, a striker at Saltire Thistle FCSimon Beck, a striker at Saltire Thistle FC

The German national team recently hit the headlines after UEFA threatened to fine goalkeeper Manuel Neuer for wearing a rainbow armband during Pride Month as he was playing in a Euro 2020 fixture.

Stuart said: “More definitely needs done at the top of the sport. Unfortunately, these big bosses at groups like UEFA still chase money and because of that, LGBTQ+ people are almost forgotten about.

“Even as a smaller club, during lockdown, we felt that we never had the same consideration that other teams had when it came to support, as though there is no appreciation that what we do is important.”

Glasgow Times: Martyn Brown, a member of the team Martyn Brown, a member of the team

The club, who train at Glasgow Green and play at Toryglen, welcome both people who identify as LGTBQ+ and also people who identify as straight from all over Glasgow.

One of the main pillars for Saltire Thistle is the inclusivity of players and staff from all walks of life -gay, straight, male, female, trans to name but a few - with 55 players and staff currently at the team.

Stuart said: “We have people in the team who are straight men wanting to support our cause and create safe spaces to play.

“It’s important that we have a mix of people from all walks of life, because you learn so much from each other.

Glasgow Times: Lee Dickinson, a member of the teamLee Dickinson, a member of the team

“People outside the community but supporting our cause are allies and they are helping to cut through that “lad culture” that comes hand-in-hand with traditional football and these hyper-masculine spaces, ones that often create a lot of anxiety for people.

“It sounds like nothing to the average person, but we have trans players who never in a million years could imagine going into a traditional men’s team and do something as simple as get changed in the dressing room.”

Glasgow Times:

The future looks bright for Stuart and the team at Saltire Thistle, with the club also encouraging more female players to take part.

The club’s rise to the top of the ranks in Scotland has been a long 11 year journey, and the last year has highlighted the importance of having a support bubble to the team.

Stuart said: “It has been a tough year for many of us and for the team as a business, but one of the best things to come out of it is having the support of 50 other people on the other end of a group chat.

“Football is often spoken about in a negative light, especially over the past year, but I know that some of our team wouldn’t be here without it.”

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