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Rainbow Laces

Rainbow Blades bringing colour to Sheff Utd

6 Dec 2020
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The PL club's new LGBT+ fan group has been helping supporters during the COVID-19 pandemic

When Sheffield United proudly announced the formation of its first lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT+) supporters group, the Rainbow Blades, this year it came at a perfect time for the group to connect.

"Obviously there's going to be some loneliness creep in and there's going to be some fears of isolation [during lockdown]," says Rainbow Blades founder and chair James Laley.

"LGBT+ Blades can join this group. They can be in a safe space. They can have that connectivity again.

"They can meet like-minded fans and that's what's been so impressive and that's what I'm so proud of."

Standing proud

Laley first approached Sheff Utd about forming the group 12 months ago and found the club eager to get involved.

"We wanted them to stand proud and to talk with us, in the name of Sheffield United, as part of our family," says John Garrett, the club's engagement manager.

"The best tribute I can give to Rainbow Blades is that during COVID, which for football in general has been such a grey and bleak time, the group brought the rainbow colour to everything we do."

As well as aiming to help make Bramall Lane, and football in general, inclusive spaces where everyone feels safe to be themselves, Rainbow Blades is highlighting the crucial role that allies can play in the drive for equality.

'Inclusive game'

"This is not just a supporters' group for LGBT+ people," says Laley. "It is also for allies, someone who stands up, who supports and who is a voice for a marginalised group of society.

"LGBT+ people are a marginalised group of society, so allies are extremely important to us. Without allies you will not have an inclusive game. It's as simple as that."

With the lockdown restrictions in place, Rainbow Blades have held online pre-match socials.

Members get together, as well as meet other clubs' LGBT+ fans, such as recently with the Pride of Irons, West Ham United's LGBT+ fan group.

In a short space of time, the impact of the group's work is already being felt.

"I'd have loved this [when I was younger]," says participant Lewis Parker. "When I was 15-16 and first coming to terms with my sexuality, you go through a little identity crisis.

"It's the first time I have been part of a fan group, just being able to feel comfortable with yourself, maybe not feeling there's a part of you that you have to hide."

Also in this series

Part 1: League renews partnership with Stonewall
Part 3: Premier League passion in the US: Katherine's story
Part 4: Spurs proud to show support for LGBT+ community
Part 5: Bellerin: I'm not afraid to support Gay Gooners
Part 6: 'We want LGBT+ inclusion woven in the fabric of football'
Part 7: Premier League clubs show Rainbow Laces support
Part 8: Proud Baggies aiming to educate fans
Part 9: How Man Utd are creating a club for all
Part 10: Cahill: Everyone should be accepted for who they are
Part 11: Justin: It’s important to learn about LGBT issues

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