Dulwich Hamlet hope anti-homophobia in football campaign is blueprint to others at top of game

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**This also appeared on the Guardian website**

Non-league club’s friendly with Stonewall is worth celebrating, but only serves to highlight the antipathy by many at the elite level

On a cold February night last Wednesday, Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill stadium was vibrant, with home fans bellowing chants from the terraces as the south London team roared to a 6-0 win.

But it was not the scoreline that was remarkable about last week’s fixture, rather their opponents: Stonewall FC, Britain’s top-ranking gay football team and current Gay Football World Champions. The ground-breaking friendly, the first of its kind in the country, represented arguably the biggest ever statement by a UK club in the crusade against homophobia, symbolic of the notion that fans and players can coexist with each other, on and off the pitch, regardless of sexual orientation.

With ticket prices reduced to just £3 for adults and £1 for concessions, and all proceeds going to the Elton John Aids Foundation, the match is just the latest event in promoting anti-homophobia – an ongoing process for the Ryman League club all season – something that has yet to be seen in widespread effect in the higher echelons of the game.

The campaign, the brainchild of the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust, began in September when Mishi Morath, a lifelong supporter and committee member at the club, approached manager Gavin Rose and the first team for their assistance. Hamlet consequently became one of the first non-league clubs to support the Rainbow Laces Day initiative and wore the laces in an FA Cup tie against Worthing last September.

A grant obtained by the anti-discrimination network Fare then followed, which was used to purchase two Dulwich Hamlet and Altona 93 anti-homophobia banners, one of which is on permanent display behind the Dog Kennel Hill end of the stadium, with the other taken to its sister club, Altona 93, in Germany.

The issue has become ingrained in the club’s ethos, and the indelible support of the fans last week shows how unanimous the club’s efforts have been: many applauded Stonewall’s players at the final whistle – “we love you Stonewall, we do!” – a sentiment that visibly touched the Middlesex County League side’s players. Not only have the Dulwich faithful embraced the campaign but they have made it their own, strengthening the club’s worthy cause.

Dulwich’s strides on the matter do however highlight why more high-profile clubs in England have yet to emulate the club’s example. With resources far greater than a side playing three divisions below League Two, shouldn’t Premier League clubs be doing more to promote anti-discrimination within the game? Dulwich managed to squeeze the friendly in the middle of a 46-game season in the Ryman Premier League. Despite a number of players lacing up on Rainbow Laces Day, a trend that first gathered momentum in 2013, nothing of much substance has since emerged out of the Premier League in terms of how to next tackle the problem, which only affirms the division’s tendency to jump on certain trends when it most suits.

Dulwich’s friendly with Stonewall, as well as the display of the anti-homophobia banner, were unprompted and original steps from a club dedicated to the cause of nullifying discrimination in football. With more nationwide participation on this scale, greater progress will be made. Premier League sides should take Dulwich’s blueprint and take the initiative to expand a sustained campaign off their own backs, rather than waiting for change to occur.

“Other football clubs say they’re against things, but in many cases it’s just lip service,” Morath says. “We’re not just saying ‘we’re against homophobia,’ we’re trying to welcome gay fans to Dulwich. That sums up the ethos of the club, we try to go that bit further.

“We’ve got a mixture of everyone. The atmosphere is buzzing at games. More and more we have become the talk of non-league football. And reaching out to what people perceive as the non-footballing community can only strengthen us all as a club.”

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The Premier League’s Dirtiest Players of All Time

Despite being a breath taking and highly entertaining spectacle week in week out, the Premier League hasn’t been without its fair share of foul play. Diego Costa’s recent antics in Chelsea’s League Cup semi-final defeat of Liverpool (including a stamp on Emre Can and squaring up to Steven Gerrard, Jordan Henderson and Martin Skrtel) have once again shone a negative light on the striker and he has been handed a three-match ban, a sign that he will no longer get away with the many offences he has committed since his move to the West London club. But the Spaniard has a long way to go before dining with the big boys in the dirty department. Whether for rash challenges, an exorbitant number of bookings or generally bad attitudes, the Premier League has bore witness to some of the nastiest footballers to ever play the game. Their crimes range from ending careers, fighting teammates and time in jail. Many could have made this list but here is a selection of some of the worst (or best) in the dark arts:

Keane

Roy Keane

Arguably the pioneer of foul play in the Premier League era, legendary Manchester United midfielder Roy Keane has seen it all. The Irishman’s no-nonsense approach on the pitch, while generating acclaim from fans and players alike, did expose an angry side to Keane’s game, his persistent rivalry with Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira perhaps one of the most iconic rivalries in the history of football. His dirtiness reached unimaginable heights in 2001 when an extremely horrible tackle on Alfe Inge Haaland ended in a career-ending knee injury. Keane admitted last October that he does not regret making the tackle, a testament to his consistently unapologetic nature, something that made him such a tour de force in his playing career.

VINNIE JONES

Vinnie Jones

He was English football’s modern day hard man, a persona that helped launch a successful Hollywood acting career after he retired from the game. But in his day Vinnie Jones was known for his dirty style of play. Long before the Premier League started Jones was at it, his infamous grabbing of Paul Gascoigne’s nether regions in 1988 the clearest sign of how far he would go. In the Premier League era, the Wimbledon captain, with tackles as reckless as some of his haircuts, was sent off on six different occasions, receiving 12 red cards throughout his career, and still holds the record for fastest dismissal in English football history, after only three seconds. Add a £20,000 fine and six-month ban for presenting the notorious Soccer’s Hard Men in 1992, and we have an enigma whose toughness has yet to be replicated, and probably never will.

Bowyer

Lee Bowyer

Another uniquely dirty player whose dark arts extended far beyond logic. The former Leeds, West Ham and Newcastle midfielder earned his reputation as a physical midfielder during his spell at Leeds with his tough tackles, earning 99 yellow cards throughout his career. But in 2005, Bowyer hit the headlines for a violent brawl with Newcastle teammate Kieron Dyer during the visit of Aston Villa, a unique incident that best highlights the volatile character of the man.

Thatcher

Ben Thatcher

It really is a shame when a footballer is known more for a particular nasty incident than his ability. But in the case of Ben Thatcher this is fully warranted. Back in 2006, the former Manchester City left-back achieved infamy for a heinous elbow to the temple of Portsmouth midfielder Pedro Mendes, rendering him unconscious and sending the Portuguese to the hospital. Thatcher was not sent off during the match but was later investigated by the FA and Greater Manchester Police. The multiple enquiries resulted in an eight match ban and a six week wages fine for the Welshman and this incident alone places Thatcher among the worst disciplined in Premier League history.

barton

Joey Barton

One of the most unstable characters to ever play in the Premier League, Joey Barton has a rap sheet longer than Peter Crouch on his tiptoes. In addition to receiving frequent red cards and suspensions throughout his career, the QPR midfielder has also demonstrated his violent side off the pitch. Barton has been arrested on suspicion of assault, criminal damage and in 2004, was substantially fined for stubbing out a cigarette in youth team player Jamie Tandy’s eye. In 2007 he served a ban for brutally assaulting Manchester City teammate Ousmane Dabo, an offence for which he also spent time in prison. Unpredictable doesn’t begin to describe him.