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RAINBOW LACES: Cheltenham Town manager and players show support and unity towards future openly gay players and potential teammates

Cheltenham Town manager and players demonstrate their support for any future player that comes out as openly gay.

During this years Rainbow Laces, the aim of the campaign is to make sport more of a safer and inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ fans.

And one way that safety of supporters could be enhanced is if a player has the confidence and courage to come out as openly gay.

READ: Bristol Rovers Manager Paul Tisdale: ‘Everyday Is A Challenge, But I Love It’

This would give fans a much needed role model to confide in if they ever felt ostracised in a football crowd environment.

Every year, the topic of conversation for the rainbow laces campaign is when the next footballer will come out, the last being Justin Fashanu in 1990.

Some players believe that the lack of players coming out, comes from the minimal support in the dressing rooms, and the managers.

However, this wouldn’t be the case for Cheltenham Town. I’ve been speaking to manager Michael Duff, and a couple of players to see their reaction if posed with the hypothetical question of how they would react if one of their teammates came out in the future.

The response they gave showed that there is an platform in which players can openly come out about their sexuality without judgement.

“It wouldn’t bother me,” manager Michael Duff said when posed the question.

The manager went on to add: “Obviously you have to try and support them because there is still a big stigma within football that there has to be gay footballers. The numbers will tell you that.

“But obviously players are too scared to come out.

“So personally, in terms of myself- it wouldn’t bother me.

“I have a lot of people in my life who are openly gay or bisexual, so it makes no difference to me.

“As I’ve said, as long as they are doing their job properly, that is all I’m interested in.

“The fact is, if they do need support in any form or capacity (mental health) then my job is to try and support my players and staff so they can try and do their job properly.

“What I need to do if that’s the case, is to support them.”

The message of support also radiated with the players responses to the same question.

Defender Charlie Raglan also had his say on the matter.

He said: “They would have my support.

“I don’t know if it’s easier for me to say this, because personally in my life- I don’t have to worry about it (the threats and complications of it).

“But in terms of support that I would offer, I’d be there for whatever they needed really.

“Somebody to talk to, I’d be somebody to listen and I’d encourage them to be themselves and if they need to speak out, then they could come out and be themselves.”

Raglan’s fellow defender Will Boyle, admitted that a player coming out would bring him closer to the said player in question.

“I’d be massively respectful to be honest,” Boyle said. “I think it would be a very brave thing to do ultimately.”

The 25-year-old went on to say: “And for me it shows leadership to be honest.

“So, I’d be definitely backing them 100%.

“Nothing would change with the way we are around the place and the way we are as teammates; everything would be normal.

“It’d probably give me a bit more I wouldn’t say respect, but it would definitely tie me closer to them because they are being totally honest.

“So, for me, that authenticity is something that I can recognise in people. I have it myself and when I see it in people- I like it and so I’d definitely be respectful of it.”

A certain factor preventing a player coming out is the potential abuse they could receive from opposition fans.

Statistics from Stonewall suggest that three in five fans believe anti-gay abuse from fans discourages gay professional players from coming out.

When both managers and players were asked about fan influence in dissuading a player coming out, they were totally honest about what the situation would be.

Defender Boyle believes that players could face issues with he crowd when they openly come out.

He explained: “To start with, they probably would yeh.

“But from my point of view, opposition fans target whatever they can.

“From a player’s point of view, it’s not necessarily personal most of the time.

“Obviously some people will say it’s banter, but it can definitely cross the line.

“But ultimately, I think that football fans when they are in a group can change the dynamic of things.

“But when they are on their own, they wouldn’t say half the things they would say if they were in a group.

“But that’s the way of a crowd.”

“Something you say that you think it’s banter could hurt someone, so you have to be careful in that sense,” Boyle admitted.

From the managers perspective, he believes that if you are doing your job as a player, then the fans will take your side regardless of sexual orientation or different factors.

Duff said: “Obviously you can say it about coming out as gay, but it’s the same for racism and mental health, and other things that people suffer with different anxieties.

“And ultimately, all these types of movements bring awareness to these issues.

“If you are a half decent player, then no one would really care what sex you like.

“Just be a good person ultimately and most fans will warm to you.

“I think whoever the first player is to come out will be supported wholeheartedly and I wouldn’t be playing lip service where you say something in front of a camera and then not back it up after when the cameras aren’t on you.

“I genuinely think that player will just be one of the lads. And I assure you if that player is a centre forward and has scored 20 goals a season then the players won’t care.

“As long as whoever it is performs well, then that’s what everybody wants.

“So, in terms of inclusion, 100 percent they would be accepted.”

READ: Rainbow Laces: Newly Found Rainbow Blades And Other Fan Groups Giving A Support Network For LGBTQ+ Fans

Cheltenham Town have never had an openly gay player, so fan reaction at the club would be interesting to see if that ever did happen in the future.

Seven in 10 football fans who’ve attended a match have heard or witnessed homophobia on the terraces, so would this stat worry a closeted player playing at Cheltenham Town?

Michael Duff believes that the fans at the club are a good bunch, and would support the player in question if they are performing well on the pitch.

However the 42-year-old also admitted that the opposite could happen if the player isn’t going through the best spell which could be a hindrance.

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The manager said: “Again, I think supporters are pretty fickle. Whoever the player is and if they are playing well and are doing their job properly, they will get supported as much as everyone else.

“The down side is that if a player isn’t performing as well as they could be, then the problem is what could be coming their way.

“That’s the thing that needs to be monitored, because if they are having a bad game – it’s not because they are gay.

“That would be the worry in terms of the stigma that supporters need the education that if something was shouted like that, then they would need to be ejected immediately.

“At our club, we are good supporters so I don’t expect that to happen. I mean historically, we aren’t known for our hooliganism. We are a family club.”

Boyle when asked the same question looked at it from a positive aspect, claiming that the player in question would earn ‘respect’ from the Robins faithful if they did come out.

The central defender explained: “I think to be honest; it’s needed really for a first player that comes out.

“And I think the first one that does will earn a lot of respect.

“Like I said before, for me it shows leadership in terms of having the strength to say this is me and this is who I want to be – take it or leave it.

“So, for me I think that fans would have a similar view to that, and hopefully it will inspire other people to be the same as well.”

Will Boyle’s partner in defence Charlie Raglan looked at this matter from a more realistic point of view, warning that all fans won’t agree on a player coming out.

The 27-year-old admitted: “Our football club on the whole, our fan base- people will have disagreements about certain things.

“But I’d like to think that there would be support for that individual, especially because we are at the stage where there aren’t a lot of people that have come out and stated that they are part of the LGBTQ+ community.

“So I’d like to think that if they are one of the first, then they will get the backing and the support to encourage other people.”

These views from professional footballers and managers are a step in the right direction in helping a player feel comfortable to come out in English football.

Unfortunately, views when Fashanu came out were very different to nowadays, leading to the Norwich City star taking his life.

But lessons have been learnt, and with society moving forward, maybe men’s football is also on the verge of also moving forward.

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