City’s Media Officer Craig Bratt talks about why the Rainbow Laces campaign means so much to him and other LGBTQ+ members of the football community.
This piece has been written for the match day programme for Saturday's match against Tranmere Rovers.
Today’s match takes on an important meaning for me - it’s the annual Rainbow Laces match day. This is a campaign that for plenty of LGBT people within football is the opportunity to be celebrated, accepted and included as part of their club and here at Exeter City I am pleased to have taken the lead on our content this year. Exeter City is a club for all, no matter what or who we are, and despite our differences we are brought together by one thing - the mighty Grecians.
I often see people wondering why we have this campaign - which started five years ago - or what it achieves, and I can answer those questions from experience. Growing up as a football fan and someone who was also trying to figure out their sexuality, the sport was never the most welcoming of places. From homophobic comments and chants from the stands, to posts online, discrimination against LGBT people was, and still is, rife within our beautiful game. Seeing that as a youngster it makes you question whether football is the right place for you, so that’s why it matters that we have this visibility. Sadly, this week, even within our own fanbase we have had issues with discrimination on social media and while nobody is perfect, it shows that even a club like ourselves that does so much good, we still have more work to do.
In a game where we all quick to condemn racism, homophobia seems to be the one last accepted taboo and this cannot stand. As an openly proud LGBT member of this club, I hope my visibility makes a difference to someone and opens pathways to making the sport more inclusive for all. I have never shied away from discussing my sexuality or hid it from anyone since the Rainbow Laces campaign was launched in 2015. This is because the campaign is educating people who may have previously been unaware of the problems of homophobia within the game.
Something else I’m often asked is ‘when will we see an openly gay footballer?’ Well, sadly that is something I can’t see for a few more years. That isn’t because football isn’t ready - because it is - but we still have so much more we can do. There are still barriers to break down but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
While last week’s result at Cheltenham didn’t go our way, I left the Jonny Rocks Stadium with a sense of hope after some great work but their media team in highlighting the importance of the campaign. Senior players and the manager both spoke about why inclusivity matters, and this is something I’ve done here at City. Thank you to Jake Taylor and Alex Fisher for speaking to me during the week about how we can make the game more inclusive. Allies like Jake and Alex are what we need more of in the game and it is great to see so many big names across the leagues trying to make a difference.
At Spurs, Eric Dier and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg sat down with the Proud Lilywhites LGBT group and Brighton’s Dan Burn openly stated that the dressing room would support a gay player. Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson sharing with his millions of followers a picture of the rainbow armband is also a huge step. And of course, here at the Park, we have the Proud Grecians who continue to work tirelessly to represent LGBTQ+ City fans. These are the kinds of things we need to see more of on a regular basis, not just for one week a year.
But more importantly, for me anyway, is seeing players actively wearing laces. I cannot say enough about how much it means to see players donning Rainbow Laces. It shows that we matter and have a place in the game, and for that I will forever be grateful. To our allies in the game, please keep supporting the cause and speaking up for us when you hear discrimination.
Today, whether we win, lose or draw, it is a victory for me. Because seeing the club I’m so honoured to work for supporting a cause so close to heart means the absolute world.
Up the City!