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Rainbow Laces: John's story

24 May 2019

John Harper runs the inclusive team Newcastle Panthers with the support of the Newcastle United Foundation

When John Harper decided to be open about his sexuality, football offered him valuable support.

Harper had been a budding footballer, who had been on the books of Barnsley as a child and also had trials for Hull City and Scunthorpe United.

But when those pathways fell through, he moved to study at Newcastle, where the Newcastle Panthers, an inclusive team, offered him a welcoming environment at an important time.

'A big step'

"Newcastle Panthers formed when I was 22, which pretty much coincided with me coming out," Harper says.

"It was a big step for me because I had always played football without anyone knowing about [my] sexuality and then, straightaway there is this team that is an open and welcoming, inclusive team.

"That's what I needed at that moment in time."

Growing role

Ten years on, the Panthers team have grown, as has Harper's role there. He is now the chairman, as well as being the captain and centre-half.

"We are an inclusive team and no matter the gender, sexuality, race, we have people from all walks of life who come down to play for Newcastle Panthers," Harper says.

"Fundamentally they are there because they know they can play in an atmosphere, an environment that is welcoming and supportive. That is what the Panthers stand for."

Help from Foundation

The Panthers' growth has been helped by the support of the Newcastle United Foundation.

A Foundation coach takes a monthly training session for the Panthers players. Not only does this coaching develop their skills but it has encouraged more players to join.

"Attitudes are progressing. There is a bigger awareness of LGBT and clubs are being more proactive"

John Harper

The Foundation also helped to fund a recent tournament for the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) and has provided the Panthers with tickets to matches at St James' Park.

"It's great to have that link with a Premier League club," Harper says.

Progressing attitudes

Premier League clubs do a lot of great work with LGBT fans and groups to support equality and diversity, not just at stadiums but in their communities.

The League and clubs came together to celebrate Stonewall's 2018/19 Rainbow Laces campaign and to show that football is for everyone.

"For me, the attitudes are progressing," Harper says. "There is a bigger awareness of LGBT and clubs are being more proactive.

"They've had the Rainbow Flag in St James' Park and that can only help teams like ourselves, not just in the North East, but also across the country as well."

Also in this series

Part 1: Premier League's Rainbow Laces
Part 2: Rainbow Laces: Natasha's story
Part 4: Rainbow Laces: Zanka's story
Part 5: Rainbow Laces: Callum's story

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