FOOTBALL is for everyone. It does not discriminate against race, gender, religion or sexuality.
But sadly there are still some members of our society who do not feel free to be who they really are at a match for fear of abuse from others.
Stonewall’s important Rainbow Laces campaign shines a light on this issue with the goal to make the Beautiful Game unequivocally inclusive for all.
Starting with Friday’s top-flight clash between West Ham and Leicester, you will see many rainbows on show at matches over the next ten days, from laces to corner flags.
This is not simply about English football finally catching up with other sports in having an openly-gay current footballer.
It is more about tackling barriers which make LGBT people feel unwelcome or uncomfortable in football.
Portsmouth’s Jack Whatmough was one of several to show their support for the campaign with a rainbow photo-shoot in London last week.
The 21-year-old said: “Anyone should be allowed to play, support or work in football, no matter colour, religion or sexuality.
“It’s something that is normal in day-to-day life, so I don’t think just because you’re a footballer you can’t come out as gay.
“I’ve never heard a homophobic chant at Fratton Park or any stadium I’ve played at. For me to be playing first-team football for the last four years and not have heard a chant means that something good has happened.
“This campaign has helped massively.
“I don’t think it would matter to a fan if someone from the street was to come out, so I don’t get why you can’t in sport. I don’t think anyone would look at them in a different way.
“I think it is a good thing to be able to speak about and support to show your respect and that everything is OK.”
Whatmough’s point on not hearing any homophobic chants is encouraging — though we are still a long way from all LGBT people feeling comfortable to be themselves at matches.
The fact eight per cent of fans in a BBC survey of more than 4,000 people last year said they would stop watching their team if their club signed a gay player underlines why.
Yet the Pompey star’s observation is echoed by Bristol City’s Gary O’Neil, who believes progress has been made with regards chanting since his days as a kid watching Millwall.
The 34-year-old added: “You hear some chants which you think are a bit close to the mark but I think that’s definitely less than it used to be.
“When I used to watch football as a kid at Millwall, some of the things that went on were far worse than they are now.
“We’re getting a lot closer now so let’s hope it keeps going in the direction it’s going.
“The Rainbow Laces campaign raises awareness. If you get even a few lads wearing these on a Saturday, with all the goals being shown on TV, there’s so much exposure. It’s easy to forget. It jogs people’s memories to make sure we’re keeping on top of it and standards aren’t slipping.”
All 92 league clubs will be supporting Stonewall’s initiative with various activities.
EFL clubs will have rainbow-coloured corner flags this weekend and match officials will wear rainbow laces.
Supporters are clearly backing the movement too with 187,153 rainbow laces bought at the time of writing this article.
Stonewall’s sports campaigns manager Jehmeil Lemonius added: “We want to create a legacy where LGBT people feel safe in stands, we have a few gay players, we have openly gay football teams. That’s the aim.”