A police boss is urging the football team he supports to launch its own club for LGBT – lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered – supporters.
North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones was at Wrexham AFC’s Racecourse ground to highlight the fact that for their home match against FC Halifax on Saturday, February 10, the club’s players will be sporting rainbow-coloured laces in their boots to help raise awareness of LGBT issues for which the rainbow is a powerful emblem.
The eye-catching initiative has been organised by Enfys – Welsh for rainbow – the support network within North Wales Police which aims to encourage LGBT staff to achieve their full potential, both professionally and personally.
The rainbow laces initiative also comes during both the official LGBT History Month and the Football v Homophobia Month of Action, which is being supported by clubs across the UK.
The commissioner said: “This year I wanted to be a part of something with North Wales Police that would mark LGBT History Month in North Wales in a positive and relevant way.
“I am personally very passionate about football and of course extremely passionate about my football team Wrexham FC.
“I am grateful to the club for their support with this awareness-raising event and who knows, if the interest is there and people feel encouraged, maybe the legacy we can create from this is not only a welcoming environment, but a new Wrexham FC LGBT supporters club too.”
Mr Jones added: “We have known for some time that there is an under representation of LGBT people within the world of professional football and this stands out when we look at other areas of life where people feel comfortable and safe to be open about who they are amongst their friends, family and work colleagues.
“Within the world of football the statistics tell us another story – that people are fearful and certainly too afraid to be ‘out’.
“Just recently we saw the very moving short film on the BBC One Show about Richie Anderson, a man who plays football at a local level.
“It took him a great deal of courage to come out to his team mates whereas in the other areas of his life he knew he was accepted and comfortable to be himself.
“This is something that needs to change. The professional football industry needs to demonstrate to people that it’s ok to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. It’s ok to be LBGT and work as a coach, or a manager, or a player or be a team supporter.
“There is a lot of work to be done here in order to change the culture of fear and create one of belonging and acceptance.
“One small step on that journey is to get our beloved football teams, our heroes to demonstrate that it’s okay to be out in football. As a demonstration of that support the Wrexham players will wear rainbow laces in their football boots in the Halifax match on February 10.
“Where we create a culture of acceptance, it moves us away from hate speech, hate incidents and hate crime.
“There is no room for hate in North Wales, in our communities or in our football.”
Backing for the PCC’s suggestion for an LGBT supporters’ club at Wrexham AFC came from club secretary Geraint Parry who said: “I think it’s a fantastic idea and there are already quite a few clubs who have something like that.
“Rainbow laces is another good initiative which Wrexham AFC is delighted to support.
“Because this club is owned by members of the community our aim is to is to be inclusive for all sections of that community, including LGBT people.
“We hope everyone feels welcome when they come to see our games both at home and away.”
Proudly donning the multi-coloured laces for the February 10 game at the Racecourse will be Wrexham captain Shaun Pearson.
He said: “It is massively important that football is accessible and welcoming to everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation.
“We should strive to make sure this club and football in general is as open and inclusive as possible with nobody fearing any form of discrimination.
“As Wrexham AFC is a club at the very heart of the community it should stand out as an example to everyone of inclusiveness.”
Also backing rainbow laces is Steve Gilbert, chairman of the Wrexham AFC Disabled Supporters’ Association.
He said: “We support all forms of inclusion, whatever that may be, so I’m very pleased that our players will be making this gesture in support of LGBT people. Everyone should be welcome at football matches.
“As well as highlighting LGBT issues the February 10 game will also be an autism friendly match which will be attended by members of the National Autism Society in Wrexham.”
Paula Johnson, a support officer in the North Wales chief constable’s office and stakeholder of the Enfys support network, said: “The network uses initiatives such as rainbow laces to raise awareness of LGBT issues amongst police officers and members of the community.
“It’s incredibly important that Wrexham AFC with its wide following is helping to get over the message that being LGBT is okay.
“In all the professional football clubs in the UK there are no ‘out’ gay players but it was good to see that when the Richie Anderson came out to his team-mates on TV they were very supportive and didn’t feel the need to treat him any differently.
“Being LGBT is a minor aspect of life and, when it comes to football, it doesn’t stop us supporting or playing.”