Altrincham FC — who play in the National League North, the sixth tier of English football — have long had a reputation as a club that punches above its weight.
The Robins hold the interesting record of knocking more football league clubs out of the FA Cup — 17 to be exact — than any other club which has spent its entire existence in non-league.
However, while having immense success over the years, Altrincham had, in the past, done little to spread that success outside the walls of its Moss Lane home.
Bill Waterson, a member of the club’s board, said: “Back in our glory days of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, we weren’t really a community club. We just happened to be a club that sat in Altrincham.”
Over the last decade or so, this has all changed. Altrincham has become a club synonymous with inclusion and diversity, having built a hall adjoined to the stadium which acts as a community hub, as well as publicly supporting a number of local and national causes.
This year is no exception, and Altrincham have hit the headlines with their very clear way of showing support for the Football v Homophobia campaign, who have designated February as their action month to coincide with LGBT+ history month.
The Robins will wear a kit which has the colours of the pride flag, as well as the Football v Homophobia logo, in their game against Bradford Park Avenue on February 16th.
“What I wanted to do when I got on board was to take our community work a step further and make our community engagement more widespread,” Waterson explained.
Waterson wanted a plan not just to engage with the LGBT+ community, but faith and disability groups in the local area, as well as national organisations such as Kick It Out, the leading campaign against racism in British football.
The original idea for the rainbow kit came around 18 months ago, but Waterson felt that, at that time, the club would not be able to do the idea justice.
After a number of events — including the dedication of their Non-League day game against Rushall Olympic to a range of equality and diversity campaigns, including local LGBT+ team Village FC who were invited as guests of honour — discussions with Football v Homophobia began in earnest.
Waterson said: “We’ve been talking to Football v Homophobia for the last 15 months or so, since our Non-League day event.
“We decided about six months ago that we were going to do something during February, which we knew had been designated as Football v Homophobia action month.”
Scott Lawley, who works for the Football v Homophobia campaign, praised the drive and commitment of the club.
He said: “It was very much driven from within Altrincham. There was a lot of behind the scenes work and, since it was made public that this was happening, it has really caught people’s imagination.
“It’s turned into something really big and there are other clubs talking about potentially doing the same thing as well. What’s really great about it is that it’s a non-league club creating this impact.
“It shows that as much as having the big professional clubs involved is important, any club making a gesture like this can capture people’s imagination.”
A number of designs were proposed before the final kit was decided upon, but Waterson felt the importance of the event went far beyond the kit itself.
“This is not about doing something that’s a nice fashion statement,” he explained. “It’s about shouting as loudly as we can about our commitment for LGBT+ people to feel welcome at football matches.
“The more obviously linked to the pride flag the better, which is why in the end we chose the kit we did.”
The process of designing the kit required Altrincham to get the approval of a range of groups and organisations, including the Football Association, the National League, their kit sponsors J. Davidson and Sons, their opponents Bradford Park Avenue, and even the match referee.
However, Waterson has praised all of these groups for their cooperation.
He said: “All of the organisations we have dealt with have been very positive. Our main sponsors, J. Davison and Sons — whose logo we are replacing on the shirt with the Football v Homophobia logo — have been massively supportive.
“I don’t think there was ever any doubt that people were going to be anything other than supportive, and it’s been great to see just how strongly supported we have been.”
Despite Altrincham’s willingness to get involved, things haven’t always been quite as easy for the Football v Homophobia campaign.
Lawley said: “It’s really mixed. I
“There’s a lot of inertia to overcome,
“You get a number of different levels of what people will do. Sometimes it’ll be something in a programme, which is great, and then you get what happened at the Manchester City vs Tottenham game a few years ago where both teams ran out in Football v Homophobia t-shirts.”
“First of all we’ll do a review to see what went well and what we can do better, so next time we do a campaign like this we can make it even better,” Waterson said.
“We want to get a very clear idea, and establish a calendar, for when events like this can be done.
“It won’t just be LGBT+, it will be anti-racism, it will be doing work with the Altrincham and Hale Muslim Association who sponsor some of our first team shirts.
“We want to work with all communities who are under-represented here at Moss Lane.”
Altrincham have put down a marker in showing their commitment to tackling homophobia and making sure football is an inclusive place for all fans and players.
Inclusivity is central to the work that Altrincham do, and their public support for the Football V Homophobia campaign sets a refreshing example to the football community.
Featured photograph/Altrincham FC