COURAGE takes many forms in football.
Sometimes it happens beyond the white line, sometimes surreptitiously, as in the case of David Gould.
David is a lifelong supporter of the Carlton Football Club.
He is also the founder and secretary of Carlton Pride, since 2017 the football club’s official LGBTIQ+ supporter group.
Though David asked that this story not revolve around him, it’s impossible to tell the tale otherwise - for without David and his bravery there would be no Carlton Pride.
A lifelong supporter of the old dark Navy Blues despite hailing from Richmond, David committed to the cause with the gentle persuasion of his dear old Mum, who was born within walking distance of the idyllic Princes Park ground.
To quote David: “My family has had a presence in Richmond since the 1880s and I was born in Richmond, but my mother brainwashed me into supporting Carlton”.
From his teenage years through the late 1970s, David dutifully fronted up to Carlton fixtures.
These were good years – Premiership years for the old dark Navy Blues - but paradoxically by the late 1990s they’d taken an adverse toll on him.
That was because David was gay, and as a gay man he felt alone. He didn’t feel physically safe.
“I fronted up to the Carlton games between the ages of 18 and 38, but after 20 years I stopped going for the next 20,” David said recently.
“I was sick of hearing people yelling out ‘poofter’ to umpires, and sitting there thinking that was me. I was hearing it at every game at every ground. It wasn’t being called out and I got so sick of the homophobia that was being demonstrated that I couldn’t go anymore.
“People now talk about it as if it’s in the past, but it’s not in the past, it’s still there. The difference now is that more people are aware of the political nature of yelling out something like that and they know that other people aren’t happy about it. That’s the difference and so it is with racism.”
Ironically, the sense of loneliness David felt in being forced out of the game he loved served as the catalyst for him in seeking out others who might also have felt ostracised.
A contributing factor was the reality that for all the years he suffered in silence he never once met another gay person who supported the game, let alone the club.
“I believe a lot of them didn’t go to the games, particularly women, but since Carlton Pride we’ve had a number of them come to the football and each of them say: ‘This is the first time I’ve come to a game of football because it’s the first time I’ve actually felt safe’.”
A few years ago, David again returned to the grandstands, only this time with his brother and his brother’s friend in tow. Alas, the experience didn’t prove particularly satisfying for David, for the chief reason that there was no associated social dimension.
This in turn prompted David to determine whether there were gay people out there who actually followed the game – “which is kind of funny when you think about it now”.
“In 2016 I decided to approach the Carlton Football Club about it,” David recalled.
“I met with Emily Pilling (the club’s then Consumer and Marketing GM) and told her that I wanted to start a group. She was very supportive, but indicated that the group would need some structure around it.
“The following year, Dennis Webster, who is no longer with the Carlton Pride committee, Ben Innella and myself got together and decided to set up a steering committee for Carlton Pride - which we did – and ever since we’ve had a seven-person committee that’s remained stable.”
It’s a measure of the quantum leap in sexual tolerance that Carlton Pride, whose committee includes a transgender woman, a lesbian, a bisexual male and four gay men, now boasts a membership of around 1000 members across two categories.
“And half of them would be straight,” said David, “so we have a lot of allies”.
“What we’re about is being public, which is why we’ve produced our scarves and badges. It’s a way of saying ‘We’re not going to be silenced anymore’ as we have been in the past.”
For all the advancements in recent years, the struggle continues for David and Carlton Pride.
“There are young kids out there, and even older people, who’ve never ‘come out’ because they’d still have that fear,” David conceded.
“But all the people on our committee are very sure of who they are now. We at Carlton Pride are very politicised in terms of what it means to be gay.
“What Carlton Pride has done for me on a personal level is created a social side to football that I never experienced before. What it has done for the Carlton Football Club more broadly is created a whole new dimension of community.”
To best illustrate his argument, David cited a defining matchday moment at the MCG back in 2018.
“It was half-time of a particular game, and members of Carlton Pride were sitting together in the stands all wearing our Carlton Pride scarves,” David recalled.
“From a distance I saw a lady in her early 30s, in the company of her elderly father, pointing to us. I could tell that she was explaining to him about the gay people supporting Carlton and I saw him look across and raise the two thumbs.”