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When football came home to Pride

When football came home to Pride

In London, the big game was scheduled for the same afternoon as the big parade. Our correspondent headed to a pub in Soho to take in the action

In London, the big game was scheduled for the same afternoon as the big parade. Our correspondent headed to a pub in Soho to take in the action

Charlie Wells | July 9th 2018

Lee Grant was clearly straight. There was a particular art to the way he cupped his hand over the small of his girlfriend’s back. Pretty in a summer dress, she was a calming presence as he nervously fixated on a projector across the room. There was only space to stand in the hot, wood-panelled pub. In the hour before the match started, the place had filled with the sort of football-obsessed Englishmen who, after each goal, would go on to face one another and start kissing. With tongue.

Grant and his girlfriend, Lily Anthony, hadn’t intended to watch England v. Sweden in a gay pub. The couple was visiting London from out of town and, from the sounds of it, Anthony had meticulously planned a summer tour of the city. Their itinerary included a night out at a blues bar, a speedboat ride down the Thames, a tour of The London Dungeon and even an Eric Clapton concert. The 3pm game was something of an unexpected interruption. Several days before, England had beaten Colombia in a penalty shootout, meaning they qualified for the quarter finals of the World Cup.

The couple had tried at least two other pubs. But they were disappointed by the service so in one final attempt, wandered for a few blocks and suddenly found themselves in the upstairs screening room at Comptons of Soho, which some people consider to be the godfather of London’s gay pubs. On the same afternoon, a similarly high-stakes affair was taking place in town: the annual Pride parade.

“I don’t give a shit where we’re watching the game,” Grant said, refusing to look away from the screen after kick-off. They stood across the table from Roy Hayward. He was watching the match wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a big penis on it and had a piercing through his nose that looked like a bullring. He had come to the pub for England’s other matches, and was fresh from marching in the Pride parade with the leather fetish community. To him, the whole day was starting to feel a bit like a football match.

“I’m sure there’s gay people on the team,” a man standing near Hayward whispered around halftime. Lee Littlewood wore glitter on his face and said he had been going to Pride every year since he turned 18. To him, Pride mattered more than football. But he still felt like it was important to show up and support England. To Richard Walsh, standing closer to the screen, the game was more important. He had a large football painted on his face and be it from the excitement of the game or the toll of the day itself, couldn’t stop spilling beer from his plastic glass onto the pub floor.

As is the case with most crowded pubs, it was difficult to hear much of what the commentators were saying during the game. The only difference in Comptons was that at some point, somebody started playing a loud Katy Perry pop song. At times the beats clashed with the one-two steps of the players on the field. The music certainly stopped when England’s Harry Maguire headed in their first goal. After a nervous half an hour or so, Dele Alli scored a second for England, and everybody in the pub broke out into an a capella rendition of “Football’s Coming Home”. The Lightning Seeds’ “Three Lions”, to give it its official title, was an unofficial anthem for the England campaign during the Euro ’96 football tournament, and is experiencing a dramatic renaissance, fuelled by a potent mix of social media, 1990s nostalgia and delighted disbelief in England’s success.

By the time the match was over and England had won, Grant and Anthony said they both had goosebumps. Anthony said she preferred watching the match in a gay pub because – at least at that point in the early evening – “it was less rowdy”. With the excitement of the game dying down, the people upstairs started to leave. Outside, Soho’s streets were packed. There were whistles blowing and flags waving. The parade had ended a while ago and it wasn’t clear in what direction the crowds were moving. Tanned men with short shorts on and shirts off hung out of windows waving ribbons and laughing. Pubs were emptying and re-filling. And in staccato bursts people in the street – gay and straight and everything in between – could be heard chanting “football’s coming home”. There was a sense of pride in the air.