Criss Cross and go under the bridge
Then you got to pull it tight
Make a loop but keep a long tail
That is how to do it right
That’s how it started.
No-one died throwing themselves in front of the King’s horse. There was no ‘I have a dream speech’ in front of thousands of people persecuted on the basis of the colour of their skin. The police weren’t called to subdue an angry rabble with a thirst for equality and social justice.
It started with shoelaces. About 150cm of colourful shoelaces that say so much more than ‘I want my shoe to stay on my foot’. In 2013, Stonewall UK and Paddy Power began our Rainbow Laces campaign. The aim was to remove homophobia from football and sport in general.
Here are the stats that show something’s not quite right:
- There are around 5,000 professional footballers in the UK.
- None of them is gay. Apparently.
- The chances of that are one quadragintillion to one. That’s:
The Rainbow Laces campaign is not calling for anybody to ‘come out’. What we want is to create an environment when doing so barely causes a ripple of interest. A situation whereby if a footballer decides to reveal his homosexuality, society will give him unequivocal support. Or sweet indifference. Whether it’s the Champions League or the Isthmian League, we adore these players, so why should it be so difficult for them to live their lives the way they want?
If the guy banging in the goals for your team happens to kiss his boyfriend before rolling over and turning off the light each night, it doesn’t change a thing. As long as he is willing to work his bollocks off for the club you love, that’s all that matters. We are football fans first and foremost. We’re there to appreciate sporting excellence and the fruits of hard work and ability. Everything else is really just trivia – trivia it’s not worth spreading hate or making someone miserable for.
Comparing the Rainbow Laces campaign to the suffragettes or the Civil Rights Movement is ridiculous. We know that. But at its core, the intention is the same. We want change. We want to change attitudes to improve the lives of millions of people in the UK and beyond. The Rainbow Laces are the symbol. A symbol that intolerance has no place in a sport designed to bring joy to people’s lives.
At one meeting, one member of the Rainbow Laces campaign team defiantly said: “We’ll be doing this is 10 years’ time if we have to do.” It was a noble statement designed to signal our unwavering commitment to the anti-homophobia movement.
But it’s not true. We would stop the Rainbow Laces campaign in a second if we felt we had achieved our goals. We’d stop it next year if we could. If homophobia was no longer an issue in football and the players we revere for their skills felt comfortable enough to be themselves without hiding who they are or living life with a mask, then we’d pack it all up and find another cause to devote our efforts to.
Changing times and attitudes
However, ambitions and reality rarely come together so idyllically. We know that – in reality – it will take time to change attitudes. Rainbow Laces will take years to change opinions and create the environment we’re aiming for. But we’re in it for the long haul. For as long as it takes, we’ll be breaking out the Rainbow Laces and speaking up for what we believe in.
Some gay people will have no interest in going to a football match or a sporting event. Some might prefer to go to musicals, read fashion magazines and be the embodiment of a lazy stereotype that often gets used to ridicule. Who cares? Life is tough enough without hating on someone just because of who they fall in love with. That’s their right to choose, not anyone’s right to pass judgment. If that’s the attitude generally, why shouldn’t it apply to football?
In the first year of the campaign, over 400 professional players wore the Rainbow Laces. Some did it because the anti-homophobia campaign had a relevance to their own lives. Others did it simply to promote the message that things need to change. As comical as these colourful shoelaces may have seemed, they sent a powerful message that football needed to hear.
Doubt they were particularly visual during the show with our monster desk, but the laces were worn. pic.twitter.com/HhQ8XKCeTb
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) September 21, 2013
Members of the Arsenal and Everton first teams, Joey Barton, David Ginola, Gary Lineker and Stephen Fry were among the thousands of people who either wore or supported Rainbow Laces. The support Stonewall UK received was breath-taking. The groundswell of opinion told us to keep going. This is an open door that needs a push. In some cases, the door may need a firmer push than others, but we’ll happily do the work.
Rainbow Laces is a cause we believe in. Rainbow Laces is a cause we are proud to be involved in. It may take a few years to reach the final destination, but you can play your part. It only takes two minutes to lace up and change the game.
- Tweet your support for #RainbowLaces. Tweet players, clubs or your pals to encourage them to show we’ve got the balls to change the game.
- How to get Rainbow Laces: You can get Rainbow Laces at any Paddy Power Shop (shop locator here) or via Stonewall here