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A Christmas message from Mersey Rose


25 years ago now I attended two Christmas parties for two different football clubs.


One of these was the men's team that I played for every Saturday. The other was a women's team, where I was a coach. I learned a lesson that Christmas that I've never, ever forgotten in the years since.


I don't think there was anything particularly unusual about the team I played for. The party was the usual "laddish" event that was not uncommon in its time. It was a male-only zone, even if no-one had explicitly said it should be. Or at least it was male-only until the "entertainment" came along - it seemed that women had a role at our club after all, so long as they were slipping into and out of suggestive outfits. I didn't feel comfortable with this and it wasn't a place I felt I could fit in. On the football pitch i was very much an integral part of the team, but at the Christmas party I was a detached observer (and a rather unimpressed one at that).


The other party couldn't have been more different. The players came with their partners, and some of these were women. We didn't make bold statements of inclusivity in those days but at the women's club we had what could have been described as an inclusive culture for the time. We knew we had players in same-sex relationships and we welcomed them. At the height of the toxic debate around repealing Section 28 (parallels with the current conversations around trans people are striking) in our small way we were standing up to the dehumanising rhetoric. And here we were, getting drunk together, singing loudly and basically having a good time with this terrifically diverse group of people.


As someone who was "out" to a very small number of people at the time, and who knew many LGBTQ+ people who were struggling with simply being themselves at a time when there was such hostility towards us, I didn't feel it was wise to be honest about my identity. The men's team I played for definitely wasn't a safe place to be out. It was loosely connected to a fundamentalist church, which didn't help matters, and there were definitely a couple of rampant homophobes in the squad. But, even without that, the whole "lads' club" culture of the time was alienating.


The contrast between the two parties was remarkable. It was then I understood the importance of becoming more intentionally inclusive in how we did things. It really wasn't enough that, almost by accident, our women's club was naturally inclined to be more welcoming. That was perhaps just the nature of women's football compared with the men's game at the time. No - I had a sense we needed to do something more. I became convinced that we had to deliberately create environments in which not only is everyone welcomed and included, but in which they know they will be welcomed and included. I was thinking mainly about gender and sexual orientation, but the principle is true when applied to other characteristics too.


Fast forward a quarter of a century and things are different - or are they? The fact that a club like Mersey Rose exists is, to my mind, terrific - but the flip side of that is the less appealing reality that it is necessary for clubs like Mersey Rose to exist. There's still a lot to do in regards equity, diversity and inclusion. Just this week, in its own Christmas "Raising the Game" bulletin, the ECB indulged in a little bit of bi-invisibility while talking about "gay marriages". It doesn't have to be intentional to be damaging. On a wider scale, conversations we're having since the Azeem Rafiq accusations and the ICEC report show both the desire to do something and a lack of understanding as to what actions should be taken. So many are waiting for the ECB to tell them what to do rather than take a lead.


The rate of change may seem painfully gradual, but we're in a better position than ever to be the change we want to see.


Christmas means different things to different people, and that's great. But whatever your take on Christmas, the majority of stories around it - whether we're talking about the Biblical birth narratives, the legend of St Nicholas, Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol or even the Grinch - focus on change. Nothing stays the same. People are transformed. Attitudes are challenged.


As Mersey Rose Recreationals prepares for its first season the club is already thinking about ways it can create more inclusive experiences for people who want to enjoy cricket. We're looking at how we can better serve disabled people. We're seeking ways we can welcome LGBTQ+ people. We want to be a club where trans people can play a full role. We're thinking about how we challenge racism and sexism. In addition to providing a welcoming and inclusive space, we want to be standing with people who are marginalised for who they are. We are committed to tackling prejudice and removing barriers.


A fair bit has indeed changed in 25 years and I know I certainly have. No longer am I the quiet person in the corner, privately uncomfortable but too nervous to speak out. If our new club can be described in one word then it is this: hope. We hope for a better future, which is surely the essence of the Christmas message.


We have a lot to celebrate this Christmas and even more to look forward to in what is sure to be a momentous new year. We wish everyone travelling on this journey with us a fantastic Christmas and a successful 2024.


Andi Page is Mersey Rose Recreationals' Hardball Team captain.







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