‘We should help one another’: New regional alliance launched for LGBTQ+ football fans groups

Six groups for LGBTQ+ football supporters who follow clubs in Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire have formed a new alliance; James Laley, founder and chair of Rainbow Blades, explains why it’s important for these groups to stand “shoulder to shoulder”, share best practice and widen their community reach…

By James Laley, Rainbow Blades

James Laley and members of Rainbow Blades marching to the Sheffield Pinknic event in July

The Regional LGBTQ+ Football Supporters’ Group Alliance is formally being launched on 1 August 2023.

Six fans groups from Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire are the founder members, uniting as an Alliance to share best practice, offer peer-to-peer support, explore joint events and seek to empower all supporters’ groups to reach their full potential.

The founding groups are: Rainbow Blades (Sheffield United), Marching Out Together (Leeds United), Rainbow Owls (Sheffield Wednesday), Proud Millers (Rotherham United), Rainbow Spireites (Chesterfield FC) and Proud Stags (Mansfield Town).

James Laley is the founder and chair of Rainbow Blades. Here, he writes for Sports Media LGBT+ about how groups like his can only benefit from collaborating with others – regardless of club rivalries – and what success will look like for the fledgling Alliance…

James Laley

Earlier this year, I pitched an idea to my fellow Rainbow Blades committee members – to link up on a regional level with other fan groups like ours.

There were two key reasons behind my suggestion.

Firstly, it was the understanding that every supporters’ group is at a different stage, is a different size and has a different working relationship with its respective club. Some groups are well-established, while some have just started out. Some have different structures and ways of working, with different strategies, aims and objectives.

All these groups benefit from guidance, particularly in the early days. I know that when I first started out with Rainbow Blades back in 2020, it was daunting.

I gained hints and tips by talking with other LGBTQ+ groups and campaigns, such as Fans for Diversity which is run by the Football Supporters’ Association and Kick It Out.

Secondly, it was about acknowledging and appreciating how Pride in Football is an umbrella network for all UK LGBTQ+ fans groups. Establishing a regional alliance is a way to complement that network – with a geographical focus on support, presence and ability, we can collaborate on a manageable scale.

Why am I so passionate about this new Alliance?

Speaking from personal experience, it can be very challenging at times to run an LGBTQ+ football supporters’ group. That was the case back in 2020, and I’d argue it’s even truer now, in the current climate. Being visible in this space can open you up to hate, and that’s even tougher to take when you think about how we’re all volunteers who do this in our own time.

However, I also know that involvement with groups like ours comes with rewards. Those rewards aren’t just personal growth within society and our sport, but also – and most importantly – the positive impact that LGBTQ+ fans groups have on the landscape of football, contributing towards a diverse, inclusive and modern game.

These groups help countless numbers of LGBTQ+ fans to feel safe to attend football grounds as their authentic selves and find the confidence to attend matchday socials with other like-minded individuals.

We bring together those fans who may have felt unconnected from their football clubs, and we also provide the possibility of a far greater feeling of reconnection.

The regional Alliance can only enhance this capacity, by sharing best practice, offering peer-to-peer support, scoping out joint events and empowering supporters’ groups to reach their potential.

We are broadening our potential to collaborate and setting up channels that will create a more united regional community.

Even before our launch, it’s been great to have calls with Chris, who launched Rainbow Owls (Sheffield Wednesday) in June, and Darren and Ellie, who launched Rainbow Spireites (Chesterfield FC) in July. This is just one example of where the Alliance works.

Members of Rainbow Owls, the new LGBTQ+ and allies fans’ group for Sheffield Wednesday

We’ve already started to share ideas such as professional flyer content and designs by Rainbow Blades and Marching Out Together (Leeds United). These will be uploaded onto a shared best practice drive.

In this and other ways, we’ll create a library of resources for everyone to tap into and, hopefully, be inspired to try things out with their respective groups.

No one should be alone. We should support and help one another. There will also be opportunities in the future to collaborate on events and campaigns, in addition to having each other’s backs if our groups or clubs are subjected to LGBTQ+-phobia.

We’ve all acknowledged that our priority is the time and dedication that it takes to run our own groups. Because of our different approaches and strategies, we don’t want to create extra work for ourselves so our Alliance won’t be formalised with a constitution or have a Founder and Chair.

Importantly, every group in the Alliance is equal, and we all have the same platform and voice. We want to achieve success for all the groups involved – to ensure that they grow in stature, reputation, and membership; to create lines of communication for questions, support and ideas generation; to collaborate as and when it fits in with each group; and to show it’s important that we stand shoulder to shoulder.

We hope that this will be a success. With anything new, you’re always taking a leap of faith. But the examples that I’ve already given – all of which we’ve put in place before today’s launch – demonstrate some early green shoots.

We’d love it if more supporters’ groups from other regions set up their own alliances. Our belief is that this can only be a good thing, complementing the purpose and work of Pride in Football.

Thank you to my fellow Rainbow Blades, and to the members of Marching Out Together, Rainbow Owls, Proud Millers, Rainbow Spireites and Proud Stags.

Our Alliance is by no means a closed shop, and we hope to welcome more groups from our region in the future.

To learn more, visit the Rainbow Blades website or email rainbowblades@outlook.com

James Laley

Here’s what the five other founding member groups have to say about the new Alliance…

Rainbow Owls

“Having other LGBTQ+ contacts, who have different insights and objectives, will help Rainbow Owls to learn more and provide us with greater context, particularly as to how an LGBTQ+ supporters’ group should be run in a credible and professional manner, in order to leave a lasting legacy for our LGBTQ+ fans and ensure that there will always be an LGBTQ+ supporters’ group for them.”

Proud Millers

“The aim of our group is to ensure our club becomes a more accessible and inclusive organisation for all our members and in the community.

“Proud Millers is a safe space where fans, participants and allies can discuss how Rotherham United (and football as a whole) can become more inclusive to those from LGBTQ+ communities.

“Whether this is through regular inclusive sports sessions or community education campaigns, we at RUCT aim to facilitate and support the group’s pathway into a more cohesive Rotherham.”

Marching Out Together

“We’re delighted to join the alliance with our colleagues from other Yorkshire, Derbyshire, and Nottinghamshire groups.

“We truly feel that together, we can support each other in building our groups and making football truly welcoming for all.”

Rainbow Spireites

“We are a group created to provide a safe space for Chesterfield FC supporters that are members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Rainbow Spireites more than welcomes allies too.

“We’re created by fans, for fans and aim to use the love of our club to not only provide support for members of the LGBTQIA+ community attending games, but also help support the Club to support us.”

Proud Stags

“Our group is open to all who embrace inclusion and reject discrimination in football. Proud Stags aims to ensure that Mansfield Town Football Club and all football remains accepting and inclusive to all supporters.

“We also have plans and ideas coming up to help and support the LGBTQ+ community in Mansfield.”

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