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Regional alliance formed to develop LGBT+ fan groups

This week it was announced that a new regional umbrella supporter organisation representing LGBT+ supporters has been created – covering Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

The purpose of this regional alliance is to share best practice, offer peer to peer support and explore joint regional events.

The founding groups of this alliance 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).

Founder and chair of Rainbow Blades, James Laley, tells more about the alliance below…

How did the idea come about?

James: Earlier in 2023, I pitched to the Rainbow Blades committee an idea of forming a regional LGBTQ+ supporters’ groups alliance, which would comprise of groups from Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.

The idea came about for two reasons. One – every supporter’s group is at a different stage, is a different size and has a different working relationship with their respective club. Some are well established, while some have just started out. Some have different structures and ways of working, with different strategies, aims and objectives.

I know when I first started out with Rainbow Blades, back in 2020, it was daunting. I gained hints, tips and guidance by talking with other LGBTQ+ supporters’ groups and campaigns, such as Fans for Diversity by the Football Supporters’ Association. Two – we acknowledge that Pride in Football is a network representing ALL UK LGBTQ+ fan groups. A regional alliance is important to complement the Pride in Football network, while having that smaller geographical support, presence and ability to collaborate on a manageable scale.

Why are you passionate about it?

James: From personal experience, over the last three years, it can be very challenging at times to run an LGBTQ+ football supporters’ group, maybe even more so now with the current climate. Not only can it open you up to hate, but we are all volunteers who do this in our own time.

I also know it comes with its rewards. Those rewards aren’t just personal growth within society and the world of football, but also, and most importantly, the positive effects that these groups have had on the landscape of football for a diverse, inclusive and modern world.

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, so we bring those fans, who may have felt unconnected from their football clubs, with a greater feeling of reconnection.

What is the purpose of the alliance?

James: Even before the 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 one example of where the alliance works. We have already started to share ideas such as professional flyer content and design by Rainbow Blades and Marching Out Together (Leeds United).

These will be uploaded on a shared best practice drive. Creating a library for everyone to tap into and, hopefully, be inspired to try things out with their groups is important. 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.

What does the alliance want to achieve?

James: We have all acknowledged our priority is the time and dedication that it takes to run our own groups. Like I have said, we all have different ways of working, and have different strategies and work that we are involved in. All the groups that have signed up to the alliance have said that it can’t be there to create extra work, so it won’t be formalised with a constitution or have a founder and chair.

Everyone in the group 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 idea generation; to collaborate as and when it fits in with each group; and to show it’s important that we stand shoulder to shoulder.

Why should others take notice?

James: We hope that this will be a success. With anything new, you are always taking a leap of faith. But the examples that I have already given – such as signposting and sharing best practice, support and communication for new groups, all of which occurred before we launched today – shows some early green shoots.

We would love it if other supporters’ groups from other regions set up their own alliances. It can only be a good thing and, as I said, complements the purpose and work of Pride in Football.

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