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  • Michael Hughes

Personal Stories: Michael Hughes

I’m a member of Leeds United Americas (formerly the Leeds United Supporters Club of North America – LUSCNA – but apparently we’ve assimilated South and Central America in addition to Canada and Mexico now). At the age of 36 I rekindled a love of football when watching the Korea/Japan World Cup in the middle of the night (all the games were after midnight), and I got an urge to start watching world class football again – preferably broadcast in English. That led me to the E.P.L. From there I did what any reasonable gay man would do and I chose a team based on the attractiveness of the badge. :-)

I narrowed it down to Arsenal or Leeds (forgive me, I was naïve). After doing some cursory research, I realized that Arsenal was in London, which I was obviously familiar with, and they were a frontrunner; and then there was Leeds, which I had no clue about except that they were mid-table. I didn’t even know where Yorkshire was. I chose to follow Leeds. That was the summer of 2003. I didn’t realize that the club was in free-fall at the time.

While that may seem to trivialize my connection to Leeds, it’s actually been quite the opposite. I’ve thrown myself into the club with quite a passion. That first year I started reading the Yorkshire Evening Post online, subscribed to “Leeds Leeds Leeds” magazine, read biographies/autobiographies of the club’s greats, joined LUSCNA and turned over a large part of my wardrobe to Leeds United gear. My favorite player was, and still is, David Batty – my home Wi-Fi network still bears his name. My now-husband and I travelled to Leeds and witnessed a game at Elland Road in April 2004 to make sure we got to see the team in the Premiership before the inevitable relegation.

The ironic part of all this is that I chose Leeds so that I could watch top-flight football on TV, but once they were relegated after that first season then they weren’t on American TV anymore. :-/ But by that point I had too much invested to even consider switching allegiance.

Anyway, I’m always cautious about being “out” in other countries, or even other states in the U.S. I live in San Francisco, which is extremely unique in its attitudes. (I generally assume people here are gay until I’m presented with evidence to the contrary.)

But I had an interesting exchange with a “Leeds Leeds Leeds” editor in 2004. At the previous Christmas my boyfriend (now husband) gave me a little bear which he had dressed in a homemade Leeds kit and soccer ball. I sent a picture of it to the magazine’s fan section. I got an email back asking about who gave it to me and I said something like,

“It was my boyfriend, Marty, but you can just say it was a friend.”

The editor wrote back that it wasn’t a problem to say he was my boyfriend, but that it was really rare to have gay fans of the club. (Not the exact words, but pretty close to the point.) You can see in the attached photos that they published the “boyfriend” part. It made me that much more proud of Leeds United. (13 years ago, mind you.)

We found Leeds to be a pretty welcoming city when we were there, especially in the gay areas; but I get the impression that there’s still a lot of homophobia and racism around the region, and especially among the football fans. Hopefully the media representations are overblown. But it’s really gratifying to see that your organization exists and has been embraced by the club. I really wish the best for the group and I hope you can raise the visibility of the gay fans in a very positive way.

We’ll definitely be back for a match as soon as Leeds United gets promoted. It may be before that, but we’re committed to coming back as soon as promotion happens. We’ll absolutely get in touch with you when we come. In the meantime, please let your North/Central/South American compatriots know about Leeds United Americas. I’ve been to events with part of the club, including the leadership, and they are very supportive people.

And, FWIW, I mentioned my husband. We’ve been together now for 25 years and have been married for 3. We got married at Disneyland. :-)