On Monday, November 27th, 2023, rainbow laces got underway for its tenth successive season!
However, the campaign didn’t always have the traction and notoriety it has today, and when it officially launched, Shrewsbury Town were one of just 13 EFL clubs to support it.
The first-ever dedicated game was a narrow 1-0 loss against Wolves in front of 9,510 people at the Meadow.
A big event in the West Midlands, the difference proved to be a Bakary Sako penalty in the 84th minute immediately after Jon Taylor had received his marching orders.
The then 20-year-old Connor Goldson took the lead off the pitch, handing out the laces in the dressing room and many of Town’s players weaved them into place without question. Now plying his trade north of the border for Rangers, Connor remains a public advocate for the campaign and has had an incredibly successful career.
However, nowadays Town has a new man as the face of rainbow laces. Elliott Bennett is now in his third season at Salop and officially became Shrewsbury’s rainbow laces ambassador in October last year.
Speaking when appointed to the post, Benno said: “I’m very proud to be our rainbow laces ambassador. I’m proud to be part of any campaign that involves equality and making sure football is for everyone.”
Now over a year into the role, the 34-year-old conducted an interview with Sky Sports recently as part of a special on the ten-year anniversary of rainbow laces and discussed how things have changed in the last decade.
“The rainbow laces campaign has been running now for ten years and it’s fantastic,” Benno began. “It’s great to see that - when it comes to inclusion - things are becoming how they should be in this country.
“Everyone is welcome at football. Everyone should enjoy it and nobody should ever come to a game with any fear. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from or what you believe in. You should be able to come to football and be able to enjoy the game for what it is because it’s an amazing sport that brings people together.”
Elliott continued: “I think it’s important to spread those messages so that when people see it and when kids see it, they understand they are there for a reason. That reason is to make sure everyone feels welcome.
“I’m fortunate enough to have been asked to be an ambassador for it and I’m proud to represent the club in that way and hopefully we make people feel more welcome and make sure it’s a safe place for all.”
Benno was also able to provide an insight into how this kind of campaign is received behind closed doors in the dressing room here at Shrewsbury.
“We speak about loads of things like this and thankfully no one in this dressing room is against any person for their sexuality or their race or anything else.
“We’ve got people from loads of different nationalities and races. I feel like everyone here who is part of the team, all the supporters who pay good money to come and watch us, I think if someone in our dressing room suddenly decided to come out it’d be as easy as possible for them and they wouldn’t be treated any differently.
“Hopefully a professional player in England will feel proud and confident enough to come out and not worry about being accepted, not worry about a backlash.”
Interestingly, Sky Sports’ special had discovered that players’ superstitions are a large reason why many won’t wear rainbow laces, something the unsuperstitious Benno described as ‘probably the biggest barrier’ to the campaign.
He continued: “Your boots are your tools, even though I think it's just your feet but that’s a different conversation! And people worry that things like changing their laces, their shin pads, their boots or even the order they put each item on will affect their performance on the pitch.
“But I think even ten years ago, people would put them in for training, wear them during games and it’s grown massively since then.
“I think the most important part about it is that it’s something people can see, and it opens up a bigger conversation which is what we need in the first place.
“It can’t just be something people see for a week and then it goes away – these are people who want to be a part of the game and we need to make sure we’re welcoming and integrate them into it.”
Town’s vice-captain was also asked for his opinion on the controversial politics in football debate that has often been used to diminish inclusion campaigns. Like many, Benno was sceptical of the arguments made in favour of keeping the two separate.
“Politics and football is always going to be a debate,” he explained. “I think it’s easier to say that when you’re in a majority such as being a heterosexual white male in England, I think it’s easier to say, ‘keep politics out of football.’
“But if you’re a different race, sexuality, or female, that’s when ‘politics’ in football is important.
“When groups don’t feel welcome or they feel underrepresented, it can help massively when players and people around the game speak about those issues.
“That’s what has to happen until the game is perfect and everyone feels represented – simple as that.
“It's come a long way. Long gone are the days of people saying certain derogatory words, we all know the words I’m talking about, and people are making sure that those making chants or comments are being called out and banned.
“But it’s not just about banning people, it needs to be about educating them as well, so they understand why it’s not okay.
“We want to teach people we are on the side of equality, and we want to support everyone.”