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Pride game is here to stay, now to make it an A-Leagues-wide initiative

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Josh Cavallo: 'I didn't feel like I could be myself' (1:14)

Adelaide United's Josh Cavallo discusses the experiences that took him towards his decision to publicly come out as gay. (1:14)

When you fly into Adelaide, you can see Coopers Stadium from the air. If you had flown in on Saturday, you would have been able to see two giant rainbow flags on the Eastern grandstand.

It was the most obvious and visible manifestation of the Pride games hosted by Adelaide United.

Around the ground, rainbow flags flew from the top of the stands and at the corner posts. Tifos that read 'Together Love Always Wins' in Pride colours were held up by the Red Army with trans, pansexual, and bisexual flags.

Adelaide's A-League Men and A-League Women players wore rainbow names and numbers on their shirts while Melbourne Victory's ALW side donned Pride socks. The United for Pride scarves and T-shirts were selling like hot cakes.

The city turned it on, and the Reds community embraced the event wholeheartedly, following the example set by the club.

Among the rainbows and love were two phenomenal football matches.

Fiona Worts' sublime hat trick secured the Reds' 3-0 win over Victory and a spot in the ALW finals series for the first time in club history.

Nestory Irankunda's 92nd-minute wonder strike ensured the men also ended the night with three points, defeating Central Coast Mariners 2-1 in club captain Stefan Mauk's final hit out.

The script was followed to perfection.

While other clubs had previously done Pride initiatives, and worked with Pride organisations for one-off events, these games were met with a heightened level of excitement. Josh Cavallo's coming out meant it felt destined that Adelaide should host the first A-Leagues Pride games.

"It's quite emotional and personal," Cavallo said at the announcement of the Pride games.

"To see that in six months' time [since his coming out], we [Adelaide United] have done something like this and for the first club to ever do this, it's pretty crazy and it's pretty big.

"And to know that myself and the likes of Izzy [Isabel Hodgson] had an influence on this -- it's just absolutely crazy, it's mind blowing."

The acknowledgement and headlining of women's team captain Hodgson, herself a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, alongside Cavallo signalled this wasn't an event put on just for him even though the story is so intertwined with his coming out.

The women's game has long been a safe and inclusive space, but still it has also been a target of anti-gay behaviour and abuse. Even though LGBTQIA+ athletes are more commonplace in the women's game, a moment of celebration and recognition was just as important.

Overall, the messaging was clear: No matter who you are or where you were coming from, there was something to gain from these matches.

Pride as a concept was for everyone and, naturally, everyone had their own varied but significant definitions and meanings.

Pride Football Australia (PFA) -- a non-for-profit organisation representing LGTBQIA+ football clubs -- knew the impact of that level of visibility would be priceless.

"We're really excited for it because it's going to showcase that the league itself is for diversity and inclusion," PFA president James Cardall told ESPN.

"I think if one player from our community views it and thinks, 'OK, I want to go and start playing football, it's for me, I'm going to feel safe', that's going to be a win in itself. But the visibility of being on Channel 10, and obviously hosted by a large club in the league, is going to be massive."

Those in the stands or watching at home weren't alone in feeling the effects of the game. And it wasn't just Hodgson and Cavallo for whom the game meant that little bit more.

For Adelaide women's player Emma Stanbury, Pride gave her a chance to reflect on her own journey, from realising she liked women while watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer with her dad to spouting anti-gay comments to hide who she was as a teen.

"Fifteen years ago, there was no women's team in Australian football sending a message as strong as today to a young kid like me," she wrote on Instagram.

"There was nowhere for me to look and see that it was OK to be who I am, and that it's not wrong to love someone else just because they are the same gender. There was no message saying who you are is who you are, you are supported, loved and safe.

"This Pride game is for all those LGBTQI+ people out there, whether your story has happened, is happening or is to come. Know that there is a big community out here waiting to welcome you with open arms where you will always be accepted, loved and adored for being brilliantly you. I hope today's game shows you something I wish I could of seen when I was a kid - people coming together for something bigger than themselves; acceptance and love."

Similarly, Sydney FC fan Steven Poletti felt they had to go to Adelaide to experience the Pride games in person. That meant jumping in the car and undertaking the long drive from Sydney.

"I just knew I had to be there," they told ESPN.

"This is obviously something that had been a long time coming and should have happened a while ago. I knew that if I didn't do everything possible to be at the first Pride games, I'd regret it for the rest of my life.

"To be there for such a landmark moment in the A-Leagues is something I'll never forget. As someone who is proudly part of the LGBTQIA+ community (non-binary and pansexual), I wanted to make sure I was there to represent my part of the community, given I did not know if anyone else who was non-binary and/or pan would be in attendance.

"The day itself was absolutely fantastic. I loved every second of it. It felt like a genuine celebration and did not come off as tokenistic in any way, which was a concern leading in for me at least."

The concern about tokenism wasn't baseless. Slapping a rainbow on a jersey is easy. Creating safer, more inclusive environments while balancing education and celebration requires hard work.

Adelaide, to their immense credit, have been doing that work, fostering an environment where Cavallo felt he could come out and be embraced and supported in the first place. It was also evident in the club's response to the anti-gay abuse that Cavallo received during a match against Melbourne Victory. And it's been followed through with these matches as well as education sessions and panel discussions in the lead up to the games.

While this event was deeply personal for some players, it also taught others about the value of being an ally and opened their eyes to stories they'd never considered previously. That was certainly the case for Adelaide goalkeeper Joe Gauci.

"I was quite naive to these sorts of conversations," Gauci said in a video on the club's social media platforms.

"And in recent months my eyes have definitely been opened, and I've become more aware, more understanding of what it means to people, and how it affects their lives positively, when we speak about these things."

So while the day itself felt like a resounding success, it wasn't the endpoint in this conversation but rather a celebratory stop in the journey.

Work must continue to be done and, for Pride Football Australia, what happens next is just as important, if not more so, than the games themselves.

"I think while the Pride Cup game is actually very important and it's a great first step, I think it's really important to keep that momentum rolling post events," Cardall told ESPN.

"And it's really pleasing to see that the A-Leagues are not only willing to keep that momentum going, but also driving it as well."

Naturally as a representative for LGBTQIA+ grassroots footballers, PFA hopes the messages of diversity and inclusion can spread far and wide given the platform the A-Leagues and clubs such as Adelaide United.

"We've got about 200 or 300 members and they're all grassroots footballers," he said.

"And there's only so far our voice can take the message. Eventually, it's going to have to be coming from an A-League or an Adelaide United. And it's great that it is now."

"But I think moving forward, this is the educational piece that we need to really drive home and it's events as well.

"Football should be an inclusive space to play. And I think that is the overriding message that we take away from this weekend. The A-Leagues and the other clubs get behind that message then I think it's just going to work wonders for our community, and not only our community as a whole, but sort of grow the sport as well."

So where to from now?

Further interaction with LGBTQIA+ organisations will ensure the principles and takeaways from the Pride games last longer than 90 minutes.

"I think one thing that I'd like to see come from this is that conversation in connection with organisations like [PFA] and football clubs like Sydney Rangers, because the Adelaide squad is made up of 35 men, 35 women and then that's about it," Cardall said.

"We've got hundreds of members who when we hear chants and see things like we saw on Twitter, it affects us and our wider community more. So I think just to have regular conversation with the system, make sure that their messaging and what they're trying to convey is on point with the reality is important. But as I said, the first steps of this type of game is absolutely fantastic."

It's a sentiment echoed by Poletti.

"I'd like to see the leagues and teams interact more with the LGBTQIA+ fans, and actively do so to work together on the best ways forward," Poletti told ESPN.

"I know I still hear stuff at games that makes me question whether the people in charge know what they are doing in being inclusive and welcoming, and when I'm on the fan side of things I have no idea where to direct that concern apart from tagging Danny Townsend on twitter."

"In terms of the next Pride games, there's no question it has to be a league-wide initiative next season. Whether that's a Pride round, or each team hosts their own individual Pride night is up to them, but it needs to happen. I'd like to see more work done on gender inclusiveness, because I think a lot of people forget that Pride is not just about sexuality. It's also about gender diversity."

With the matches now won and done, their deeper value will continue to shine.

These games have enabled the players to be vulnerable and lead conversations. They've created an outlet and excuse to discuss these things, to challenge views, and to allow the community to take something out of the games beyond the results, whether that be acceptance, familiarity, or a new understanding and perspective.