There are no openly LGBTQ+ players in men’s professional football in the United Kingdom.
Stonewall’s annual Rainbow Laces campaign is working towards changing that narrative and has run their campaign for two weeks every year since 2013.
Last year, football coach and club secretary at St Margaret’s Old Boys in Liverpool, Greg McLean, shared his story during the campaign to help raise awareness.
McLean believes the Rainbow Laces campaign has been great at helping raise that awareness and that each year the message gets stronger.
However, two weeks out of the year may not be enough to keep the message in the forefront people’s minds.
“It provides a platform for the profile of the LGBT community in football but we need something to be there all year round, a support network really,” said McLean.
“I think that sometimes if it’s only done in a small window in the year, it can be forgotten. Whereas if it’s more prominent, more regular, the message is constant and constant reinforcement means that people are more likely to take heed of that message.”
McLean is working with the Cheshire FA as their executive support officer and is helping to create a role model program for LGBTQ+ people in football.
The program is being created in conjunction with Stonewall and will act as a network for people working within the game, with the goal of it one day extending to the professional game as well.
Football still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ players to feel comfortable in their environments, and increased education and resources are needed to get there.
For McLean, having that education provided to him growing up would have helped with the questions he had about his sexual identity.
“Young people are products of their youth, the views they hold are often what they’ve been told by family or in school, or in their football teams. We need clubs to promote inclusion and diversity right from the start, so that people won’t have to have those struggles that many people do go through in terms of hiding who you are.
“We’ve gone a long way with the anti-racism message in football but that’s obviously still got a long way to go with recent events and the same is true of LGBT education. People need to realize the consequences of what they’re saying and think before they say it.”
LGBTQ+ athletes are scared to come out, and fairly so, due to derogatory comments made on the training ground, abuse hurled by fans in stadiums and attacks on social media.
According to McLean, a lot of the comments made are often dressed up as banter.
And it’s that so-called banter that can be the most harmful to LGBTQ+ footballers.
If this is everybody's game why are you bringing in shit which is https://t.co/EThlDlueYG why do you have to wear rainbow laces.Fine let gay fans in but why do you have to shove it down my throat especially when so many people are against it
— Ahmad Baig (@Fifa4life342) November 27, 2019
“I was in the closet as the saying goes for a long time. Often you would hear derogatory comments made on the football pitch that are linked to gay people and it does weigh down. Eventually where you’re almost ashamed, you are ashamed of who you are.”
Statistics published by Stonewall emphasize that more than half of LGBTQ+ people experienced depression in the last year and four in ten don’t believe that sport is welcoming.
Having professional footballers speak about LGBTQ+ issues is increasingly important and to have a professional footballer come out as gay would have a massive impact on the community.
“I use that link that if a footballer is wearing the latest boots then the kids want the latest boots, people in those positions have the opportunity to be such powerful role models.
“If we have a powerful role model who’s LGBT in football, the impact of that could be huge for the game as a whole and the attitude would hopefully change with that.”
McLean believes that having more campaigns throughout the year such as Rainbow Laces, and increased education can help to break down the barriers that LGBTQ+ people currently face in football.
The Rainbow Laces campaign runs from 22nd of November to the 8th of December.