‘No-one’s sexuality should be a stigma’ – Hitchin Town Ladies manager speaks out as Stevenage FC lace up to tackle homophobic abuse

Police football homophobia campaign launch

Police football homophobia campaign launch - Credit: Archant

The manager of Hitchin Town Ladies has spoken about the homophobic abuse she has suffered as part of a countywide campaign to tackle the issue.

Mel Harrington-Smith of Hitchin Town Ladies takes part in police football homophobia campaign launch

Mel Harrington-Smith of Hitchin Town Ladies takes part in police football homophobia campaign launch - Credit: Archant

Mel Harrington-Smith from Baldock has revealed that as a referee she has been subject to verbal abuse from players and fans about her sexual orientation.

The 40-year-old former Knights Templar student is making a stand alongside fellow Herts-based football clubs to kick homophobia out of football, as part of a campaign with Herts police and the Herts FA.

Many footballers from participating clubs – which include Stevenage FC and Premier League outfit Watford – will be wearing Stonewall rainbow laces to mark LGBT History Month, with representatives coming together to promote the initiative at Boro’s Lamex Stadium on Tuesday.

Mel, who played for Langford, Arlesey and Hitchin Town before taking on the manager’s role at the Canaries, said: “Being a female football player and referee isn’t always the easiest thing anyway, but my sexuality at times has also been a stigma for me when it shouldn’t even be an issue – just as it isn’t for straight players and other people involved in the sport.

Hayley Wood-Thompson, Chris Whelpdale, Steven Schumacher and Josie North of Stevenage FC take part i

Hayley Wood-Thompson, Chris Whelpdale, Steven Schumacher and Josie North of Stevenage FC take part in police football homophobia campaign launch - Credit: Archant


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“I did make a formal complaint a few years ago when one incident happened, but I feel it wasn’t taken seriously enough and nothing was done about it.

“This was a stressful time and did really knock my confidence where I considered standing down from refereeing.”

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“No-one’s sexuality should be a stigma for them in football so it means they should have to hide away who they truly are, or have to deal with verbal or sometimes physical abuse.

“Things are improving, but homophobia in football does still exist and I am really pleased to see the Hertfordshire FA and football clubs in Herts are backing this campaign alongside the police to raise awareness that it’s not acceptable and does not have to be tolerated.

Players run onto the pitch for the match for police football homophobia campaign launch

Players run onto the pitch for the match for police football homophobia campaign launch - Credit: Archant

“Being gay is not a choice – it is just who I am and my sexual orientation. Each of us is amazing in our own ways and no one should be afraid to be who they really are or have to accept being verbally abused because of it – especially if they are simply doing something they love, such as playing football.

“I really hope that initiatives such as this will go towards homophobia in football one day becoming a thing of the past.”

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