Newsbeat

Rainbow laces: The fans kicking out homophobia in football

Leroy Fer of Swansea City wore Rainbow Laces in the Championship match between Swansea and West Brom on November 28th, 2018. Image copyright Getty Images

Brandon McKenna is a football mad 22-year-old Wigan Athletic fan. He's also gay.

It shouldn't matter, but it did.

Homophobic abuse from his own team mates, for a time at least, stopped him from playing the game.

"It wasn't often, but every time I got the odd comment it would really knock my confidence and affect how I felt about playing football," he tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

Image copyright Brandon McKenna
Image caption Brandon McKenna supports Wigan Athletic

"I'd get a lot of anxiety about playing with new players or anyone who wasn't a close friend."

Stories like Brandon's are what inspires the LGBT charity Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign.

Now in its third year, it aims to make football and other sports more gay-friendly.

On Friday, the FA is hosting a historic match between the UK's most successful LGBT football club, Stonewall FC, and Wilberforce Wanderers AFC at Wembley Stadium.

Brandon says the rainbow laces campaign is important for raising awareness.

"It shows players within the LGBT community that football can be inclusive towards them.

"I never felt like I was part of the football community or football culture because of my sexuality.

"Rainbow laces really helps me feel in place, like I belong within football."

It's not just LGBT football fans who care passionately about the cause.

'I was getting battered and beaten'

Image copyright Sean Walsh
Image caption Football writer Sean Walsh has been a victim of homophobic abuse, even though he's straight

Sean Walsh, 21, is a Tottenham fan. He plays football at university and writes about the sport too.

He's straight but cares passionately about making football safer for gay people. Part of that is because of his own experiences.

"At university about a year and a half ago, I wore rainbow laces to a match. One night the challenges came flying in. I was getting battered and beaten," Sean says.

"I didn't really think much of it at first until an opposition player slurred under his breath at me. Then I clocked what was going on.

"It was just awful. I'm a straight guy so can't imagine how bad it is for someone who is in the LGBT community."

'That can't be what our game's about'

Image copyright Jackk Oxenham
Image caption Referee Jackk Oxenham thinks Rainbow Laces helps football players who might privately be struggling to come out

Listening to Sean was Plymouth Argyle fan Jackk Oxenham. He's a qualified referee and wants to make sure no homophobia creeps into games he's in charge of.

Jackk's also straight but like Sean, thinks Rainbow Laces really does make a difference.

"Sean's experience, it just can't happen. That can't be what our game's about," he says.

"Until we're comfortable that people aren't being abused in football, it can only help the people who are privately struggling to come out."

There's only one out gay player in a top division anywhere in the world - Collin Martin of Minnesota United in the USA.

In the UK, Liam Davis who's played for Cleethorpes Town in the seventh tier, is thought to be the highest level example.

"We want to give players the courage that they won't be hated on," Jackk says.

"If someone came out you'd just hope they'd get treated the same."

The FA says it is working with the likes of anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out and Stonewall to make sure football is safe for LGBT people to play, watch, coach and ref.

Brandon, Jackk and Sean think more needs to be done in football to make gay people feel welcome.

They'd like to see an entire Premier League team wear the laces to really make a statement.

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