With the upcoming annual Rainbow Laces campaign on the horizon, newly found fan groups like Rainbow Blades are giving LGBTQ+ fans the platform to feel safe watching and attending the sport they love.
Damning statistics have always portrayed the fact that football hasn’t always been an inclusive place for LGBTQ+ fans.
Stats from Stonewall suggest that seven in 10 football fans who’ve attended a match have heard or witnessed homophobia on the terraces.
These types of stats have prompted organisations like Pride in Football and Football v Homophobia to take action to make football a more inclusive place for everyone.
One of these actions has been the long-term plan of encouraging many clubs in the top tiers of English Football to invest in LGBTQ+ fan groups and communities.
Fast forward to now and that aim has really come to fruition with many clubs in the Premier League and lower down the football pyramid in England having affiliated LGBTQ+ fan networks.
Chelsea Pride, Rainbow Devils, Kop Outs and Gay Gooners are a few of the big groups that have been going for some time now.
Now enter to the ring Sheffield United’s relatively new and affiliated group Rainbow Blades who were founded in April 2020.
Events Officer Callum Mackay spoke to Park Life Sport about how he first got involved with the Sheffield based fan group.
Mackay said: “It was when we went up, our founder James assigned different roles as part of the setup of the group.
“It was over lock down so May this year and he opened up to the club on their social media.
“I joined up then had like an initial kind of like zoom call. And then from that asked about who wanted to join the committee, so then I put my name forward and I’m here today.
“We’re brand new. So were made in April 2020.
“We haven’t always had a proper club affiliated LGBTQ fan group.
“Before Rainbow Blades, there was a LGBTQ+ group in the name of the club. But the guy moved away but kept the Twitter page.
“So when James formed the Rainbow Blades page, the guy was like you can take over and from there we built our own affiliation to the club.”Events Officer at Rainbow Blades Callum Mackay
A relationship with the club means different types of things for different groups. Some are closely linked with their clubs, meaning there is regular contact and consistent in every way possible.
Unfortunately a few groups don’t have such a great link with their respective club.
Rainbow Blades falls under the good affiliation category and Mackay describes what a good relationship looks like in relation to the club and fan group itself.
“It’s absolutely brilliant,” Mackay said. “We’ve got really good support.”
He went on to add: “During this week we had a committee meeting where we had good fan engagement with the club and also having the diversity and inclusion officer at the club who joined the call so it was nice to see.
“They are right behind us and get involved with us with the Rainbow Laces campaign.
“They have been collaborating with players trying to get them wearing supportive shirts for upcoming games in the warm ups during rainbow laces month.
“We are having ongoing discussions with players to get them involved in some way and they are really friendly during our discussions which is great to see.”Callum Mackay
Despite the good progress made by many clubs to have a affiliated LGBTQ+ fan community, there are still a large number of clubs in the EFL who don’t have one.
Despite the size of the club, Mackay believes that there is still a need and demand for LGBTQ+ fan groups at every club.
He said: “Yeah, I think if you are part of a smaller club, you question what you are missing out on.
“You’d be envious looking across the road at what bigger clubs are doing.
“For our part, we are very sociable.
“And if you aren’t part of one, you will be missing out on a number of events which can help build a support network for vulnerable fans who may need a bit of confidence.
“I think many League One and Two clubs and even clubs in the Championship who don’t have an LGBTQ+ fan group should invest in one as there is always a need for it no matter the size of population.”Callum Mackay
With Rainbow Blades being new to the landscape of fan groups, when asked what makes them special compared to the others, Mackay pointed out the speed of growth as a big difference between themselves and others.
He said: “I think personally, there’s a lot of stereotypes still going around the incompatibility between gay support in sport, especially football.
“It’s obviously not true because we and many others have proved that stereotype wrong which makes us all special in a way.
“But I think for us, it’s kind of like a safe space where you can just be yourself, you don’t have that worry here at all.
“It’s like a loving family here. My family away from home as I would say.
“But what makes Rainbow Blades special is looking at the speed we’ve grown and also, we have to remember we have grown in quite a virtual world with the fact we set up during the pandemic.
“So, making all the connections and friends that I have personally made makes me feel this fan group is unique.”Callum Mackay
Rainbow Laces this year (2020) is being celebrated between November 26 to December 13.
With the day itself being celebrated on Wednesday December 9.