Saturday night was an iconic night for St Kilda, for the game and for society. For St Kilda CEO Matt Finnis, the inaugural Pride Game against the Sydney Swans comfortably eclipsed the club’s expectations.

Finnis expressed his pride at the way the Saints family celebrated diversity and inclusion in football, not only on the night but in the build up to the momentous occasion.

Thousands of people attended the football for the very first time on Saturday night, with members of the LGBTI community feeling welcome to do something many of us take for granted each weekend in winter.

“I think that the public support we received from within the football community, but perhaps more importantly, from outside meant that it exceeded our expectations,” Finnis told on Tuesday afternoon.

“The fact that literally thousands of people attended the footy for the first time on Saturday night is incredibly important and we’re thrilled that they felt welcomed to do so. We hope that the sense of belonging that our members feel is something they can start to feel as well.

“I’m really proud of the way St Kilda supporters embraced the game. To see the mash of red, white and black with the rainbow within the crowd, it just seemed a natural fit. So the way in which our supporters embraced it was terrific.

“We think that footy has the potential to inspire people on the ground through the amazing deeds of our athletes, as well as off the ground through the way in which people feel a sense of belonging. We’re really proud of all the people involved in our footy club for the stand that we took.”

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In the lead up to last weekend, personal tales from champion St Kilda legend Nicky Winmar and his son Tynan, from former Saints and Hawthorn great Russell Greene and from LGBTI advocate Jason Ball, provided a deeply private insight into the impact of homophobia in sport.

Through the use of storytelling, Finnis believes the Pride Game has prised opened conversation channels between families and friends, which previously may have had barriers impeding them.

“I think one of the achievements of Saturday night is we’ve started a conversation that only gets easier for others to participate in by virtue of the game. That’s something that we’re all really proud of,” Finnis said.

“I think we were all inspired by the story of Tynan and Nicky Winmar, but that story was just one of hundreds of stories that were shared.

“It was those type of stories that opened up conversation channels between fathers and sons, between siblings and between mates. That is the power that footy has and we were just thrilled to play a leadership role in partnership with the Sydney Swans.”

Finnis lauded the involvement of senior St Kilda defenders, Sam Gilbert and Jarryn Geary, who both played prominent roles in the Pride Game.

“I know from my conversations with people from within the LGBTI community, that the role players have is critical,” he said.

“When you have such wonderful, genuine spokespeople like Sam Gilbert and Jarryn Geary, you know that these are players with terrific values who want to ensure that everyone is welcome at the footy.

“The power of those role models, those allies, is significant. I’m very confident that there will be young people who feel a lot better about themselves as a result of the support of those role models.”

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