Today Marks IDAHO Day and it was also on this day 7 years ago that the Proud Valiants (PV) were officially launched. We have came an amazing way since then - like many supporters group - it started with just a single fan meeting with their club, seeds being planted and then those seeds growing.
I was lucky to have contact with one of the most progressive clubs and community trusts whose work fighting discrimination was second to none. We worked tirelessly together to make sure that the PV had the best chance of becoming a successful fan based group.
Our aims to begin with were simple, to ensure that any fans who identify as LGBTQI+ felt safe at the Valley, that these fans had a point of contact if they needed help, that we would be an advisory voice to the club on issues around prejudice based on gender identity and sexuality, that we would have a social aspect - but above all visibility - that LGBTQI+ fans knew they weren't alone.
Growing up - I thought I was the only Gay football fan out there, years of hearing homophobic ‘banter’ in the changing rooms at school - struck me with so much fear. Already confused by what was happening to me as far as sexually identity went (at that point knowing I liked both girls and boys) this alienation made me believe that football and my sexuality could not ever work.
It got to the point where I was so unhappy with the fact I could not see a life of me being who I was and still have one of the main loves in my life - I made a very misguided suicide attempt. At that age my life seemed unbearable and to many the term “it was just a phase” was commonly used.
This chapter of my life still haunts me to this very day, I am now much confident in who I am but those events compelled me to contacting Charlton Athletic to ensure no other child would feel that way, that lost and that scared .
To go through the incredibly story that we have been on since our initiation 7 years ago would amount to a dissertation in its own right.
Highlights have included setting up the annual Charlton vs Homophobia Tournament, our regular Football vs Homophobia Match, where the Club nominates a game during the month of February (last time we could meet - the event went in a new stratosphere with huge on pitch events including 60 members of the Pink Singers taking to the pitch) and our being asked to speak to MPs In Parliament regarding LGBTQI+ discrimination in sport.
We have developed great links with other fan groups and enjoy sharing great practice and with the help of the Club, Trust, Charlton Invicta and other communities groups we have worked with have developed a Charlton Family!
We now have a very strong membership, who in the past 16 months have been so supportive of each other. Even during lockdown we have organised a number of events promoting diversity and fighting prejudice. We are proud of the work we do with the club, the community trust, the supporters trust and external groups like Football versus Homophobia (in all their campaigns) and the Football Supporters association.
When setting up the group, we felt confident that the wider fan base would be supportive - but we were not prepared for how amazing the Charlton Fan base would be. The group prides ourselves also on the amazing allies who are members and whose support is so vital to our continued success.
As for the future, we look forward to continuing the excellent work we have achieved, we can not wait to get back in to The Valley and for many of us actually meet for the first time in person.
So we wish all the members of our group a huge 7th Birthday and that with luck we will have that long deserved pre match social in August.