When a former cage fighter and Team GB silver medallist decided to raise LGBT awareness in grassroots football, his biggest hurdle was knowing where to begin.
Thankfully for Alex West, ForHousing’s Do Your Own Thing programme helped him transform his vision into a reality.
The 26-year-old, who took silver at the World Ju-Jitsu Championships in Las Vegas in 2010, founded Spocial, a LGBT-friendly get-together that combines football with social activities to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, in December 2018.
The concept was simple: to bring people together regardless of their sexual preference. A place where LGBT people can feel comfortable developing their football skills and enjoy a social life.
Alex, who lives in Salford, also plans to highlight the struggles LGBT people face in grassroots football by giving talks on his experiences of being a gay sportsman.
“I want to help everyone feel comfortable getting involved in football, whether it’s playing, administration or in the stands supporting.
“I hope Spocial will inspire, empower and educate by tackling misconceptions in a positive way, while aiding football development.”
Having returned from three years coaching football in the US, Alex knew he needed help to get the scheme off the ground.
Despite not being a ForHousing tenant, he was still able to get support through our Do Your Own Thing programme, which inspires people to make more out of what they love doing by turning their ideas into income.
“Do Your Own Thing provided me with a business development mentor every three weeks, who has been invaluable,” Alex said. “He set achievable tasks and offered guidance in areas I hadn’t thought about.
“He helped me draft my first script for public speaking and put together a great PowerPoint presentation. It has been absolutely brilliant.”
Despite launching just eight months ago, Spocial has already begun to attract interest across Greater Manchester, with a host of local clubs, leagues and associations keen to become more inclusive.
And Alex, who has completed his level one and two FA coaching badges, believes grassroots football must encourage young LGBT players and protect them from discrimination.
“At that level, there is still stigma attached to LGBT in football,” he said. “I don’t think young amateur players get the support they need in this area.
“If a player comes out when they are 16, it can be very difficult for them to integrate with their teammates. It can have a profound impact on their development and relationships, including with their parents.
“LGBT in sport has progressed significantly in recent years, but there is still work to be done, particularly in football.”
Having turned his back on a blossoming engineering career, Bolton-born Alex, who is married to partner Joseph, said fate played a key role in his decision to pursue a career in football.
“When I first moved to Greater Manchester about seven years ago, I didn’t know many people,” he added. “I had come out the year before and everything was new.
“I found a LGBT football team and got in touch. After a while, the first team coach needed help, so I did my FA badges and began to train the players.
“I hadn’t played football much in school,” he added. “I was really into martial arts when I was younger, but it reignited my passion for the sport.
“We want to ensure every player is given the best in coaching, while helping with all aspects of being LGBT, including support, education and having a great social life.
“Sexual preference should not be a barrier to enjoying sport.”
Since its launch in December, Spocial’s popularity has soared. In just eight months, it has grown from one coaching session per week to three.
Alex added: “It’s going really well. It’s mainly been through word of mouth, which is great. We’re always open to new members, too.
“People know they can come, enjoy their football and feel welcome.”
The Do Your Own Thing programme helps people fuel their potential, explore new possibilities and develop ideas before taking steps into self-employment.
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