How Sheff Utd's LGBT+ fans' group has gone from strength to strength in its first year
As part of LGBT+ History Month this February, the Premier League and its clubs are celebrating how they promote and support lesbian, gay, bi and trans supporters in their local community.
Rainbow Blades, the first official LGBT+ fans' group of Sheffield United, is almost 12 months old and during the COVID-19 pandemic they have played an important role in helping fans feel connected.
With supporters unable to meet up in person before matches, the group have held online pre-match socials to give fans the opportunity to unite virtually.
"The socials remain a real highlight for Rainbow Blades and one of our big success stories from our first year," said Rainbow Blades founder James Laley. "They have gone from strength to strength.
"We welcome returning members week in, week out. They find our safe, inclusive space a great place to chat with other like-minded fans, have a laugh and fill that void that the pandemic has left in football.
"We know people are struggling with lockdown and missing the family community feel of a matchday. Out of all the things we have achieved during our first year I would say the most important is keeping that connection between our members going."
Rainbow Blades, now with more than 200 members, have also formed close links with LGBT+ supporters' groups from other clubs.
One such group is Pride of Irons from West Ham United, who they will again be meeting up with online ahead of Monday night's Premier League contest.
"It's extremely important that we support each other, share best practice and work collaboratively on projects," Laley says.
"The socials give us an opportunity to talk about our journeys and share what has and has not worked. Some groups have been going for five years and some, like ourselves, are just coming up to their first birthday.
"There are over 50 LGBT+ and allies supporters groups up and down the country and every single one of them stands for the same thing: football for everyone. So why shouldn't we be working together? It makes complete sense."