AFC Telford United captain Shane Sutton with the club's Football vs Homophobia kit

Content note: This article contains discussion of homophobia and a brief mention of suicide

It is not often that you see a bunch of rainbow-clad teenagers grouped on the side-lines of a football pitch, waving pride flags and looking very conflicted as to which team they should be cheering for. Or indeed, an even more unusual sight: a team of footballers playing in matching rainbow shirts. But this was the reality one cloudy day in November 2019 when I was invited to an event which changed the way I view sport forever.

‘Kicking it OUTfront’ was a friendly match between Telford Utd and Spennymoor Town, which was created to raise awareness of the societal impacts of homophobia. It also involved charities such as Telford Mind and the local LGBT+ youth group with which I volunteer. Twelve of us, as well as our youth leaders, joined the thousands of fans in the stands to show our support for the cause whilst encouraging people to donate to our charity and buy the players’ rainbow football shirts, auctioned off to raise more money for the group.

When I first joined the youth group, and later on became a volunteer, I never expected to be attending football matches, speaking on the radio, and campaigning for equality. Yet when my youth leader brought up attending the match, I agreed immediately. I had never seen a football match, and I am hilariously bad at any form of sport, but I was curious as to why football meant so much to so many different people. Through this event, however, it came to mean a lot to me as well.

Before coming to the match, I had, like most people, a preconceived idea of who was ‘allowed’ to like and play football. Until I got there, I didn’t realise how scared I would feel walking into a huge football stadium in a rainbow pride shirt, especially when I overheard people in the stands yelling slurs. Still, my friends and I continued to our allotted stand and set up a stall and a banner.

“The sport is often seen as a symbol of stereotypical masculinity, and it was hard not to feel out of place”

I must admit, I was surprised that I enjoyed the match, despite not knowing which side to cheer for. We spent the day eating cheesy chips, getting glitter face paint, and campaigning at our stall. Many of us had never done any activism and it really brought us together as a group. What started as a terrifying experience grew to feel more and more enjoyable: I was doing what I love most — campaigning against oppression and fighting for equality.

After the match, my friend and I were invited to speak on the radio about the event. I was scared to speak so publicly about my identity, but I decided it was more important to raise awareness and speak out than to stay silent. If it could make just one young LGBT+ person feel that they belong and show that they too have a voice, to me it was worth the fear.

Rainbow-clad and covered in glitter, we went to the top box to speak live on the county radio about how everyone can do more to tackle homophobia and promote acceptance and inclusion. It is an opportunity for which I will always be grateful, for I was allowed a rooftop from which to scream, a platform from which I could fight back on behalf of those who were silenced.


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To many it was just a match; to me, it was an undeniable sign that change was coming, and that the bigotry I faced for most of my life was becoming unacceptable. It was a symbol of hope that people like me would no longer be forced to the side-lines, that there was a space for us in all areas of society, including sport. In a world where few people in my life would fully support who I was, I found refuge in a campaign which aimed to unite and include, to fight back against hatred and bigotry.

It is impossible to attend such a match and not consider how it affected the thousands of other people who turned up as well. From the people who would usually chant homophobic slurs at matches without a second thought, to those who aren’t out to those around them, who have never been able to find community on such a large scale before, I do believe that everyone in attendance had something to take away from it.

“It should not have to be a disputed statement that shouting slurs is inappropriate and has no place in football”

I think that people often underestimate the impact of such events, passing them off as empty shows of support. While that is sometimes the case, I urge you to ask yourself this: how many of the people in the stands, in the 6,300 seats, might have been LGBT+ themselves? How many of them have never before seen such a large-scale show of support for their identity amongst a sport which often pushes a cisheteronormative ideal of masculinity? In a world where 7 in 10 football fans have heard or witnessed homophobia on the terraces, these events are unfortunately still necessary. It should not have to be a disputed statement that shouting slurs is inappropriate and has no place in football.

Having a supportive adult reduces the risk of suicide amongst LGBT+ young people by 40%. However, too many are without one. Unfortunately, I used to count myself amongst this group. Growing up, I had always thought that there must be something wrong with me; that who I was was inherently wrong; that no one would ever accept me. We owe so much to the younger generation: solidarity, community, and support. All of us who grew up with no one owe it to our younger selves to never let others go through what we did alone. When we fight against homophobia in any way, no matter how small, we make the world a better, brighter place for them.