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‘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…

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…

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.

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.

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