The FSA’s Fans for Diversity campaign, launched in 2014 and run jointly with Kick it Out, had the primary aim of breaking down barriers and helping ensure football was open to all. We wanted to see new supporter groups forming who could represent and encourage new fans into the game.
Almost a decade down the line and we’re very proud that the campaign has helped to kickstart 200+ new supporter groups, with dozens of those having an LGBT+ focus.
Since June is also Pride Month we thought it a great time to highlight some of the great work that these groups do and where better to start than Rainbow Blades and their founder James Laley.
Rewind back to 2019 and the club didn’t have an LGBT+ supporters group but James had noticed that many other clubs around the country were developing such groups. His thoughts went back to a match many years ago in League One when he’d heard someone in the crowd using homophobic language to convey weakness against a player warming up.
James was keen to raise LGBT+ visibility and spoke to the club’s supporter liaison officer John Garrett with a few ideas around how they could strive to make Bramall Lane as inclusive and welcoming as possible.
“John asked me to write a one or two page vision around that and then he put me in front of the club’s CEO to pitch it,” says James. The club liked what they heard and the independent Rainbow Blades was launched in April 2020 with the club’s support.
All supporters can be Proud Allies
The group isn’t just “for” LGBT+ fans though as all are encouraged to join and show their support for the cause.
“We want to include every single Blade and we need allies to join up – that’s the whole point. We’ve got a range of Proud Allies pin badges and other things to show that people oppose homophobia as we can’t fight it all on our own,” says James.
That Proud Allies campaign has seen membership grow to around 650 fans after only three seasons, while the group have worked with the club and players on Rainbow Laces campaigns and other initiatives such as their ‘Welcoming the Trans Community to Bramall Lane’ film.
This exposure within the community has spawned LGBT+ charity matches raising funds for SAYiT (formerly the Sheena Amos Youth Trust) and summer socials at Sheffield’s community Pinknic event.
That work has received much acclaim and recognition in recent times culminating with Rainbow Blades winning 2022’s FSA Fans for Diversity award while the club took the professional club award at Football v Homophobia’s awards.
James doesn’t want to stop yet though and has some clear goals for the years ahead.
“In terms of long term strategy we’d like to get to 2200 members as that would equate to 10% of the capacity at Bramall Lane. We also do a survey every year and ask ‘do you have the confidence to report discrimination when you hear or experience it at Bramall Lane?’” says James. “Over three seasons that has gone from 54% to 73% confidence. Our overall goal is to get it to 100%.”
While he’s been busy off-the-pitch James has certainly enjoyed what he’s seen on-the-field this season with the club clinching a deserved promotion after finishing second in the Championship, a full 11 points clear of third-placed Luton.
But the key question – will the Blades still be a top-flight team in 12 months?
“Yes we will be a Premier League club in 12 months! Some supporters are pessimistic but I always go into a match thinking we’re going to win. So yes, I’m confident if we get things right and play the right style of football we can stay up,” says James. “Watch out for us!”
Find out more about Rainbow Blades:
The Fans for Diversity campaign is a partnership between the Football Supporters’ Association and Kick It Out which celebrates diversity in football to ensure all fans feel safe and welcome at the game. We have a small grant fund to help with your ideas so if you would like to create an event, a project or start a supporter group please email: email@example.com