14/04/2024

Adelaide United and Melbourne Victory's men's teams make their way onto the pitch as rainbow pyro goes off in the background for the first match of the Pride Cup double header. (Photo Credit: Melbourne Victory/Twitter)

After last season’s inaugural A-Leagues Pride Cup matches in Adelaide, I hoped that sooner rather than later there would be a pride round across the entire league.

A year later, that is exactly what we got. Well, kind of. We got a Pride Celebration taking place across two weekends, although the second weekend was primarily so the Wellington Phoenix could celebrate at home as they travelled away to face the Central Coast Mariners during the first weekend of the celebrations.

Trying to put what the celebrations means to me, and plenty of others like me, into words has proven difficult.

At no point throughout the celebrations was I able to recapture the feeling of the inaugural event in Adelaide. But it was always going to be tough billing to live up to because the first is always special and means so much more because of that.

What the celebrations did do however, is allow for a celebration, for education, for understanding, and a blueprint to use going forward.

Teams were not forced to celebrate if they did not want to, which is important to note. A forced inclusion approach would have come off as tokenistic which would have made the celebrations feel poor and not at all like we (as a community) actually mattered.

Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust decorated the entrance staircases to AAMI Park for the A-Leagues Pride Celebrations. Photo Credit: Steven Poletti/The Inner Sanctum

The Mariners kicked off the celebrations by lighting up the famous Gosford palm trees with lights, some localised celebrations and displays, as well as getting a local drag queen involved in the action, showing just how committed they were to putting on a show.

Outside of the Pride Cup double header between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United, the award for best celebrations had to go to Canberra who did an amazing job in their game against the Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League Women.

The coaches technical area was painted rainbow, there was LGBTQIA+ themed merch being given away, and there were all the different flags being hung up above the players tunnel to showcase the diversity within the LGBTQIA+ community as well as rainbow numbering on the jersey.

Perth Glory certainly looked to give Canberra a run for their money, as they also put on a show with their women’s home game, with flags around the ground as well as messages of inclusiveness amongst other things (including rainbow printing on the jersey) while Melbourne City’s men’s game saw themed merchandise, advertising, and reminders around the ground, ahead of the double header at the same venue the next day.

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Of course the main event, the centerpiece, the showcase of the celebrations was the double header between Victory and Adelaide.

In a full display of celebrations, Gosch’s Paddock was home to an event outside of the ground featuring stalls, giveaways, and pre-match entertainment while inside the stadium itself, there were displays almost everywhere you looked. 

It was a day for friends, it was a day for families, and it was a day for celebrations with musical entertainment and pre-match displays and two cracking football games on the pitch. 

I have to admit I was very hesitant when it was first announced that Melbourne Victory were going to be hosting the showpiece fixtures this year.

Not because of the club itself, who made it very clear how committed the club itself were in making this a success, but because of some small sections of the fanbase who have been openly homophobic at games.

Those fears were averted the closer we got to the game, and what happened exceeded every expectation I had for it.

I was able to spend the day celebrating with friends. Some who travelled, some who were local to Melbourne, some who travelled to Adelaide last season, and some who did not.

The displays themselves were fabulous and Melbourne Victory, along with Pride Cup and Melbourne and Olympic Parks Trust, need to be applauded and appreciated for all their efforts that went in to the celebrations.

While it didn’t match the special feeling of Adelaide for me, it created something else. It created a feeling of optimism and hope that each year’s celebrations are going to get bigger and better.

It has the backing of the A-Leagues who are committed to a long-term approach when it comes to LGBTQIA+ inclusion. 

It creates hope that more teams will get involved in future years, creating bigger and more fabulous displays and helping more fanbases celebrate at their home grounds rather than having to travel to away games to do so.

Wellington rounded out the celebrations, putting on a display at home to round out the celebrations, with the best part of those displays (in my opinion) being a team photo of the A-League Women’s side who came together with different shirts to show off the Pride flag in the photo.

Overall, this is just a small step en route to the end goal of the A-Leagues, but it is an incredibly important one that filled me with immense Pride.

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