We sat down with three members of our LGBTQ+ Supporter and allies group, Proud Salopians, to discuss the rainbow laces campaign and why they each think it's important.
We spoke to 28-year-old Thomas, 59-year-old Gerard and a 39-year-old gentleman who did not wish to be named and will be referred to as Ben in this piece (not his real name) - and firstly, we'd like to thank all three for giving up their time to speak to us.
A lot of people dislike campaigns like rainbow laces because they feel like it's being forced down their throats. It's understandable and a lot of people feel that way about a variety of different topics. "I can understand that point of view," said Ben, "why do you need to be told about something that you think doesn’t affect you, or that you’ve never had to really think about? I’d say if you’re thinking in that way try to put yourself in the position of someone who might feel like an outsider, like something isn’t for them – that could be your child, a family member, a work colleague. And then try to imagine what it might be like to have that visibility. Allies can be hugely powerful people."
"People feel like they have to put up with this for a couple of weeks," added Thomas, "which is okay, not everything is about everyone. If it frustrates you, commenting on social media or whatever isn't going to make a difference, and if anything, it's going to work against you. It's for other people and that's okay, you can just ignore something that's not for you while it has a positive effect on the people it is directed at."
One thing that has become clear from speaking to so many people throughout this year's rainbow laces campaign is that while they all support it, they support it for different reasons and have very different perspectives on the subject.
For example, Elliott Bennett equates it to the Black Lives Matter movement and sees it simply as inclusion. He wants to be that voice for inclusion that his father didn't necessarily have as a black man going to football in the mid-late 20th century.
Andy Garden - the founder of Proud Salopians - feels the campaign is more about active support and calling out and taking action when you witness something rather than just being about visibility like it has been in the past.
For Thomas - who is an LGBTQ+ ally - it's just about awareness and kindness. He said: "To me, it's just about having awareness and support. There's a lot of unkindness in the world but if you're just an ally or on the LGBTQ + spectrum or none of the above, we're all there to support the football club at the end of the day so why not unite behind that instead of dividing over sexualities or anything like that?"
"Rainbow laces is just one of many campaigns that I think are important in terms of showcasing live football as a safe and inclusive space for anyone, regardless of any protected characteristics," said Ben. "Visibility is the most key aspect and I didn't have that as a kid so hopefully kids who feel like I did at least have something to show they do belong."
Gerard echoed Ben's thoughts when asked why he thought the rainbow laces campaign was important, but took it down a more analytical route, saying that visibility and rainbow colours connote 'gay-friendly space' to him. "I'm now a solidified Londoner [having moved from Shropshire, where he grew up] and when I moved here, I adopted Arsenal as my team," he began. "Arsenal had the first LGBT fan group in the UK, Gay Gooners, and I was a founding member. All of a sudden, the Emirates felt like a safe space and it makes you hopeful that homophobia will be seen out. When I found out Shrewsbury had Proud Salopians I almost cried. That's the message of inclusion that I didn't have when I was younger and regularly going to games and it's so important."
"Seeing players in rainbow laces or the rainbow captain's armband is welcoming more than anything," said Thomas, inadvertently continuing Ben and Gerard's point about visibility. "You can call it virtue signalling or visibility for visibility's sake, but ultimately it makes a difference to a group of people. That difference doesn't have to affect you personally for you to appreciate it's there."
For Ben, rainbow laces are about showing anyone can be involved in football. "I wasn’t a particularly talented footballer by any stretch of the imagination," he said, "but playing football was one of the only times my head could completely switch off and allow me to not even think about who I was, or what would happen if someone found out – I could just play and be focussed on something in the moment. The more people who can experience that escape through football, the better!"
Most people reading this can probably relate to that. Football can be a brilliant escape from any form of stress or responsibility. You might've been looking forward to the football ten years ago because it helped you forget about the stresses of work. For Ben, it was to forget he felt different. To echo Thomas' point earlier in the piece, "we're all there to support the football club at the end of the day so why not unite behind that?"
Gerard summed it up nicely "I think, whatever dimension you look at it from, everybody wants kindness and a lot want activism like Andy mentioned. But ultimately, support and inclusion are what we need. No matter your reasoning for supporting the campaign, support and allyship are incredibly powerful."