FOOTBALL fan Rob Ward is no stranger to hearing homophobic language at the match.
And with not one openly gay footballer currently in the professional UK game, he decided to go in for the hard tackle on football's last taboo.
Along with Martin Jameson, he wrote Away From Home, described as an edgy, moving and subversive one-man show laced with sharp humour, which is coming to the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, next Tuesday and Wednesday.
Rob, who is openly gay and a passionate supporter of Everton Football Club, said: “For years, I wanted to write something about being gay in football.
“It had always been a real issue, being on the stands and hearing things being shouted out and nothing being done.
“If it was a racist comment, it would be addressed and rightly so — why is in not the same for homophobia?”
The play stars Rob as Kyle — a typical twenty-something, lager supping football fan who is comfortable with his life as an escort until he is hired by a top flight footballer.
This forces him to question his values, relationships and the whole direction his life is taking and Rob says the play can be enjoyed by both football fans and non-supporters.
He said: “You can open it up so it becomes a universal topic about relationships and how they can be damaging.”
After developing the idea over a number of years, it has been performed for a range of audiences, from teenagers to an 83-year-old woman, across the country.
The play recently won the award for Best New Play and Best Fringe Performance at the 2013 Manchester Theatre Awards.
Rob said: “The audiences have really taken to it.
“There’s always that feeling when you write something that is what you might call Northern-based humour in a lot of it, is it going to go down the same?
“But it’s been really well-recieved in London as well.”
While football clubs across the country are making strides when it comes to tackling homophobia, Rob believes a reason why no player in England's top four divisions has come out lies with those at the top of the game and money.
FIFA, the governing body of the global game, awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, a country which prohibits male homosexuality, and the 2018 tournament to Russia, where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face legal and social challenges as well as discrimination.
Rob said: “Sponsors can make a lot of money in those markets.
“Unfortunately, places all around the world are not in line with what we would perceive to be acceptable human rights ethics and ethos.”
Speaking of the reaction from a player’s team-mates, Rob said: “People talk about, would they get abuse in the changing room from their team mates?
“Football teams are so tight-knit, your team-mates are like your family and you go into battle.
“I think they wouldn’t actually really mind unless they were from a part of the world or had religious beliefs where they had difficulty accepting sexuality.”
And while he says some opposing fans will use any insults to try and get one over on the other team and their fans, he believes many supporters would soon get bored of homophobic taunts.
In January, former Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger was the first high-profile footballer to come out as gay.
Rob said: “I hope these little small steps forward pave the way.”
Away From Home is at the Octagon on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7.30pm.