Tomorrow afternoon The Cheshire Football league take on the Yorkshire Amateur League in the second round of the FA Inter League Trophy.
There is much excitement surrounding the game after both sides put in impressive performances in their first-round ties against the Isle of Man and last year’s champions North Riding respectively.
But there is more than just a football match taking place at Hyde United’s ground tomorrow.
This weekend marks the launch of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign which will see sides from up and down the country, at all levels, lace up their boots with multi-coloured laces in a show of solidarity with the LGBT community.
Cheshire League Chairman Rob Goodwin-Davey was approached by the Cheshire FA who asked if the league would act as the flagship organisation within the county to promote the campaign.
‘I got a phone call from Steve Stewart at the Cheshire FA. It was a surprise that they came to us and said can you lead it for us. It was a really nice compliment. There are that many leagues in Cheshire they could have chosen any of them but they came to us and that was really nice,’ he said.
According to Jay Lemonius, the Sports Campaign Manager at Stonewall, upwards of 150,000 pairs of laces were sent out to clubs during last season’s campaign but he is keen to emphasise that there are other ways of supporting the campaign.
‘There was talk of us running out of rainbow yarn at one point but it’s absolutely fantastic and the level of support we get from a wide variety of sports is fantastic. We really encourage people to come up with new and innovative ways of showing their support.
‘Every year as well as laces the ECB do rainbow stumps which is fantastic and a very authentic way of showing support to LGBT. The laces are great and the provide incredible visibility but we can also do so much more.
‘What we really find the most powerful are those authentic displays of support. Watford last year created a rainbow mosaic in one of their stands and that was completely fan-led not just by the LGBT fans group but also the one of the mainstream fans groups. It was a great example of collaboration,’ he said.
This is something Rob and the Cheshire League have taken on board and as well as rainbow laces Nick Dunn’s Inter-League squad will also be donning a special rainbow kit when they take to the field at 3 o’clock tomorrow afternoon.
‘Knowing what Altrincham did last year for Football vs Homophobia I spoke to Ian Senior who is our kit and ball supplier and asked if we could do something similar with the kit for a one-off game,’ he said.
Altrincham’s rainbow kit, made by Senior’s SK Kits company, went viral earlier this year after they wore it in their game against Bradford Park Avenue. having seen the visibility which it provided, Rob opted to go down a similar route.
‘It’s actually been funded by Ian at SK Kits. Altrincham sold 1100 kits off the back of Football vs Homophobia last year. I went to him and said I want something similar but not the same and he came up with the diagonal stripes. I am biased but I think it looks better.
‘I looked at it and went ‘wow’. We’ve also got rainbow corner flags and a rainbow captain’s armband for Adam Stening to wear.
‘I spoke to Nick Dunn about it first because I wanted the lads to be fully behind it so I asked him to speak to a few of the senior players and they are fully behind it.
‘It’s a one-off and the players will have the opportunity to buy their own strip after the game. If they don’t want to then they’ll be auctioned off via social media. We’ve already had enquiries about people wanting to buy replicas,’ he said.
The campaign is of vital importance to a sport sometimes marred by instances of discrimination against the LGBT community and helps to raise awareness of the need for inclusion and diversity.
But focusing on the negatives is often counter-productive and Jay believes the key to boosting the visibility of LGBT people is in promoting the positives steps that are being taken and the good work being done by the sports industry.
‘Obviously it is never good to hear these forms of discrimination and it can be disheartening but what we like to do is celebrate the positive things. We believe there is nothing more powerful than showing positive stories of people or organisations doing great work’, he said.
‘You’re always going to have bigots in the world, there’s always going to be that small minority and they tend to be a loud minority and more often than not you’re not going to be able to change their opinion.
‘What we try to do is uplift and maximise the voices that are good and try to drown out some of the negative stories that will inevitably come out,’ he added.
It is also important to state that the aim of the campaign is not to encourage an openly gay footballer to come out, something there has been a clamour for over the last few years, but rather to promote the idea that football, and sport in general, should be a place where everybody feels safe and comfortable.
‘I can fully see a time when we have an openly gay player and not just in football but in other sports but it can be unhelpful to focus on the narrative around whether a player is going to come out.
‘We always say that if there was a player to come out tomorrow it wouldn’t necessarily solve the issue. This culture still exists. Some LGBT community still don’t feel safe going to games, some LGBT people still don’t think sports are for them and that’s a culture issue and that takes time,’ he said.
Whether a footballer decided to come out will depend on many factors both personal and external and the role we, as fans, players and managers, can play is doing what is right to make sport an accommodating place for all.
‘I think the more we can do to empower people to create those inclusive environments and supporting organisations to have those policies, processes and procedures in place to actually protect LGBT people that’s when you’re going to see the real change.
‘But like I say it is not going to be solved tomorrow if a Premier League player comes out. It will be something to celebrate but it will bring up a set of new challenges,’ he explained.
The campaign lasts for two weeks, during which time a great deal of positive work will be done in order to boost the visibility of the LGBT community but Rob recognises the importance of continuing to promote the message long after the campaign is over.
‘I think for us it has been a bit of a quiet build up aside from the stuff we’ve done on social media. When pictures of the game start spreading on Facebook and Twitter during or after the game you will get a lot more traction.
‘It can really take off from Saturday. It doesn’t stop. It’s not so much about the build-up but about the knock on. Yes it’s all about Saturday being the activation day and you’ll see it on Match of the Day and on Sky but also it’s about the continuation.
‘I wear rainbow laces in my boots all year round. It’s not just a two-week programme it’s a year round thing,’ he said.
CFL Press Officer