Liverpool Football Club has been asked to introduce a pilot scheme which would allow supporters from the LGBT community to sit together at selected home games.
The suggestion, put forward at the first meeting of the club’s equality and diversity forum which took place ahead of Liverpool’s home fixture against Chelsea, was supported in principle by all present.
Summarising the proposal, forum member Paul Amann explained that the intention was not to seek extra match tickets for the LGBT community but to better accommodate those who are already entitled to tickets.
“What I am talking about is having the ability to book a block of seats, not at every home game, to allow transgender people to sit together with fans from the LGBT community,” he said.
“Things have moved on immeasurably but there is still some way to go. Transgender people regularly come to me and talk about their love for Liverpool and then talk about their fear of coming to a game.
“The vast majority of Liverpool fans would stand behind us but I am not a transgender person so I cannot imagine their worries and concerns so it is vital that we listen to them.”
Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore outlined the lengths that the club had gone to recently to assist a transgender person who had wanted to attend a game at Anfield.
Welcoming that show of support for an individual, Paul Amann said the club should build on its work with the LGBT community by looking to implement this proposal.
“We have over 100 registered members of Kop Outs and thousands following us on Twitter but it is about having the ability to come and watch a game together,” he added.
“It is about safety in numbers. It is about being together. It is about raising the confidence of an individual who is afraid to go to the match. It is about congregation. It is about raising awareness within the fan base as a whole. It is about all of these things.
“The Football Association has facilitated a similar scheme at Wembley for last couple of England games and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea all allow bookings to be in a group.”
Peter Moore confirmed that the club will look into the proposal, saying: “This is an action that would be relatively easy for us to do.”
Forum member Mahesh Hathi then added that he would be willing to facilitate the proposal. “There are fifteen or sixteen of us, all season ticket holders, who come to the match together and we would all be willing to give up our seats to accommodate this idea,” he said.
Peter Moore suggested that one way forward could be an exchange system which would allow season ticket holders to take general admission tickets in exchange for giving up their own seats. He added that such an initiative, if practical, could be extended to help younger fans to sit together.
The proposal was preceded by a presentation by Simon Thornton, Liverpool’s diversity and inclusion officer, who summarised the club’s objectives in his field.
“Our aim is to become one of the most inclusive football clubs and businesses in the UK,” he said. “We have a real opportunity to drive inclusion into everything we do.
“Becoming the first club to achieve the Premier League Equality Standard Advanced Level since the Standard transferred to the Premier League in 2015 underlined our commitment to this ambition and also highlighted the values that underpin our work.
“Our key goals are to maintain the Premier League equality standard, to raise the LFC profile in wider equality and diversity space and to achieve recognition for the work that we are doing. Also, our long term ambition to become a Stonewall Top 100 employer.”
Yunus Lunat then welcomed the recent introduction of a multi faith prayer room at Anfield and said the resource has been well received by those who use it but he has also been asked by supporters to make a request to the club to see if it is possible to facilitate washing facilities.
Simon Thornton said an expert on prayer rooms had recommended that the club should provide storage for prayer mats and religious literature but not wash facilities because that could lead to the prayer room being almost exclusive to the Muslim faith.
Yunus Lunat said: “If a supporter needs to wash and cannot access a washroom, the supporter cannot offer a prayer, and if this isn’t possible then the facility, as good as it is in so many other ways, is rendered useless, which is a shame. For the supporters who access the facility this is a priority rather than storage for prayer mats or literature, which have never been raised by any fan.”
Yunus Lunat also cautioned on literature. “Firstly, there has been no request or demand as supporters simply use the facility for a short prayer before vacating and secondly, it risks opening up to issues of policing, what is appropriate to some may not be to others and who is leaving the material?,” he added.
“I do not know any stadiums in this country which offer washing facilities and such an initiative would generate a lot of goodwill and positive publicity for LFC. All that is required for wudu (the Islamic procedure for washing parts of the body) is a tap and a sink coming out of the wall.”
Simon Thornton accepted the point and said he would look into the proposal. “It would be easy to do and it would also be cheap so there are no barriers in these respects so the next step for me would be to have a discussion with the ops team,” he said.
Riaz Ravat suggested a change in name for the facility, saying it would be better to call it a reflection room rather than a prayer room “because in that way it is more welcoming to everyone whether you have a faith or have none.”
Simon Thornton then made a second presentation, outlining the progress that Liverpool have made in making Anfield accessible to supporters with disabilities.
“The total number of wheelchair spaces now 263, plus more than 250 amenity and easy access seats,” he said. “There are also new access routes including adapted lifts. This is in keeping with our commitment to ensuring the club is as inclusive and as accessible as possible.”
Welcoming the progress that has been made, Steve Evans from Liverpool Disabled Supporters Association (LDSA) said: “It is really good what we are doing and I know it is something that is really appreciated.
“The situation now is massively different to what it has been in the past. When I became disabled in 2009 I thought I would not be able to come to Anfield again because that’s how little awareness there was about disability at the time but that situation has changed massively.”
At the end of the meeting, Tony Barrett, Liverpool’s head of club and supporter liaison, thanked all involved for their contributions. “As with the ticket availability forum, which was held a week earlier, the equality and diversity forum has made a really positive start,” he said.
“Once again, the suggestions were considered and realistic and the willingness of all forum members to work together and in collaboration with the club was clear throughout.”
Yunus Lunat added: “I would like to place on record how refreshing and encouraging it was that the CEO and senior club executives were in attendance and still committed to the forums as a follow on to the Supporters’ Committee, which sends all the right messages out about how important this area of work is to LFC.”