Strathclyde Telegraph

The terraces are becoming a sea of colour, but something seems to be missing…

By Daniel Morrow

Football is often described as the ‘beautiful game’. In the modern day, footballers are similar to that of artists – the pitch is their canvass, the ball is their paintbrush and the final product is their splash of colour that creates the masterpiece. But the artists’ works are unfinished. Homophobia is preventing it from becoming the work of art we so desire.

In 2013, thousands of players across the country were willing to add to the palette of their already colourful boots to support the first year of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign to show their support for LGBT footballers and fans. It was the first major show of support that the sport had ever seen to tackle homophobia, which still plagues our everyday lives in the 21st Century. 52 clubs in the English Football League have put their support behind the campaign with thousands of others joining in from different leagues across the UK.

It was a complete success, reaching 320 million impressions on Twitter, making it one of the most successful campaigns to date on the social network.

Despite this massive show of support, homophobia is still a big issue in the terraces and there are still no openly gay or bi footballers a year after the inception of the rainbow laces.

Paddy Power came up with the slogan “Get behind Gay Footballers”, which wasn’t received well by the LGBT community. “We’ve given Paddy Power some advice on how to advertise it this year.” says Gay Football Supporters Network representative Simon Smith. The GFSN have been taken on board as one of the partners of Stonewall’s campaign. They wanted something that was ‘more serious’ but still kept the ‘cheeky and funny side’ that Paddy Power tends to adopt in their adverts. “We wanted it to feel like a proper campaign compared to last year, which felt more like marketing for Paddy Power” Simon added.

The GFSN established in 1989 as a social network for LGBT football fans across the UK. Since 2002, the voluntary organisation has held competitions for LGBT teams to compete against one another.

The final whistle blows, it signals the end of the meeting between both sets of players, but the GFSN attempts to go beyond that – players meet with each other before and after games, creating a community where LGBT football fans and players can come together and socialise off the field, as well as on it. “We see it as an alternative to meeting people down in a nightclub or down at a pub where traditionally, gay people have met each other before.”

Sides in the league are not restricted by the gender boundaries that traditional football associations adopt – they allow women as well as men to play in their teams. “What do you do about transgender people?” asks Simon. “Transgender people are very happy at the fact that we allow anyone to play in our teams. All the teams are inclusive. We don’t discriminate on sexuality either, so we have lots of straight players in our league.”

Taking on the GFSN’s advice, Paddy Power has now taken on a more appropriate slogan simply saying “#Rainbowlaces” – a reflection on the organisation’s ultimate goal as well broadening it’s success on social media last year.

In Scotland, the community of people who consume football on a Saturday is ageing, as younger supporters have taken their support to other parts of the globe due to the dwindling quality of the Scottish game – this has made it tough for Stonewall and the GFSN to get the message across to those who don’t access the internet on a regular basis. “This is why we developed the relationship with Paddy Power, who have access to the audience. We have adverts in the shops as well as in newspapers so we reach that audience.”

The Stonewall advert, featuring players from Arsenal has been their furthest reaching campaign to date. The advert reached 10 million people during half time of England’s opening qualifier against Switzerland, a feat, which Simon describes as the ‘largest seen message against homophobia in sports history’.

Stonewall and GFSN’s efforts to tackle homophobia are well and truly gaining momentum, and that momentum is increasing with each passing day.

On the terraces, colourful flags and scarfs are raised aloft in support of their club or their country. With campaigns such as the ones devised by these two voluntary organisations, the palette of colours seen from the stand will become brighter and more vibrant as the years go by. Their work has been more than inspiring, but the people working tirelessly for them will be glad to see an end to similar campaigns in the future, when homophobia is kicked out the game once and for all.

GFSN – http://www.gfsn.org.uk/
Stonewall – http://www.stonewall.org.uk/
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