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Andy Garden | Proud Salopians founder interview

24 October 2022

Shrewsbury Town is a club welcoming of supporters from all backgrounds - no matter their race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

And we believe football has a vitally important role to play when it comes to educating youngsters and making sure the sport is inclusive for LGBTQ+ people.

That is why we are delighted to work alongside Proud Salopians – a group set up to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and many other sexualities and orientations within the Salopian family.

Proud Salopians was formed in October 2019 by Andy Garden, and ahead of our rainbow laces fixture against Charlton today, he explained why the group is needed.

“We didn’t form for any particular event or reason,” Andy said. “I just felt it was about time we had that representation at Shrewsbury Town, for the people of Shropshire and for any supporter that identifies on the LGBTQ+ spectrum and has an interest in Shrewsbury Town.

“The main aim is to offer a safe space and a welcoming space where people can be their authentic self at the football, however they identify and however they are feeling.

“I know from growing up it can be overwhelming. You can be part of the crowd but not feel like you are absolutely there when you’re aware you’re different in some way.

“Even if we help just one or two people realise that – however you identify – it’s okay to be a football fan and be lesbian or gay or bi-sexual, or transgender or anywhere on that spectrum.

“As a group, we offer a place where people can be their authentic selves – that is our aim.

“Ultimately, our long-term aim is to not exist in as much as society and the sport as a whole just accepts everybody for who they are and there is no need for Proud Salopians or any of the pride-in-football groups.

“But I think we are quite a way from that at the moment - although we have made some good steps.”

Today’s match against Charlton is our Stonewall Rainbow Laces fixture with everyone at Shrewsbury Town proud to support their 2022 campaign: Inclusion has no off-season.

A number of our players will be wearing rainbow laces throughout the game while skipper Luke Leahy will play with a captain’s armband that has a rainbow pattern.

“The rainbow laces campaign is really important,” Andy continued.

“There are two steps really. The first is visibility and that is something Stonewall have worked on year-on-year since 2013 when rainbow laces first started.

“Now we are moving away from the stage where just visibility is acceptable. We need to be stepping up and speaking out and actually taking action as well as just being visible to make the sport better.

“Over the last 10 years, we have seen an increase in footballers at all levels wearing rainbow laces and rainbow armbands.

“I think the fact you have got people who are potentially people’s role models, especially younger people and young adults, it’s a real positive.

“And from a personal point of view, it’s inspirational. It’s nice when it’s done not just as something the club asks players to do – visibility for visibility's sake.  

“But from a personal perspective, it was so heart-warming and genuinely inspirational when last season Elliott Bennett wore the captain’s rainbow armband.

“I think George Nurse, Luke Leahy and Matt Pennington all chose to wear rainbow laces as well. They hadn’t been asked to.  

“That was a really strong and powerful visual thing for me. It's great that you can look at those players and that they consider themselves allies.”

Elliott Bennett is our rainbow laces ambassador at Shrewsbury Town, and Andy believes the 33-year-old is a true role model.

“Elliott is a top chap, he is a class footballer and we are extremely lucky to have him both on the pitch and off the pitch,” he added.

“He is a leader and him making this decision and stepping forward shows what he is about.

“I know when he was at some other clubs he performed similar roles.  

“He did it for Blackburn with their Proud Rovers LGBTQ+ group and it’s great he can be Shrewsbury’s first rainbow laces ambassador.

“I hope it’s just the start of the work that we can do with the club and the staff to strengthen these bonds and increase the inclusivity we have as part of the Shrewsbury family.”

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