The laces have brought awareness, but the 2021 campaign is all about the need to bring the conversation. So, to mark Rainbow Laces day 2021 on the 8th December, the Kent FA caught up with members of Charlton Invicta FC, a LGBTQ+ friendly team who affiliate to the Kent FA and are affiliated with Charlton Athletic and the Charlton Athletic Community Trust.
To kick things off, co-founder of Charlton Invicta Gary Ginnaw gave us a brief overview of the club and its history.
“The Club was initially formed in 2011 as Bexley Invicta FC to offer football opportunities to the LGBTQ+ community in south-east London and Kent. However, in August 2017 Invicta became the first UK LGBTQ+ football team to be formally affiliated to a professional club trust when Charlton Athletic FC and the Charlton Athletic Community Trust affiliated the Club and established the partnership which has seen us excel beyond on and off the pitch.
“We pride ourselves on providing a safe space where people can come along, make friends, enjoy football and be their authentic selves at all times. We aim to use the power of football to tackle all forms of discrimination and educate as many people as possible to be better allies on a day-to-day basis. The inclusive nature that we have organically built was summed with two Football v Homophobia Grassroots Club of the Year awards in 2020 and 2021. Last summer we decided to establish a second team on the back of so much success and took a step into the unknown when we entered the North Kent Sunday Football League (“NKSFL”).”
The 2021/2022 season has marked the start of the club’s journey into affiliated league football when a second team was launched playing in the North Kent Sunday Football League Division 5. Invicta co-founder and Club Secretary Samuel Timms talked about how big a step has this been for Invicta.
“It’s a huge step for the club and a continued desire to be a positive role model for LGBTQ+ inclusion in football. It also proves the growth and health of the club, and one of our biggest challenges is combining competitive and inclusive football. Being in the NKSFL and dubbed to many as the “Gay Team” is a positive challenge in itself. Our club is made up of roughly 50% LGBTQ+ players and the assumption is a football club like ours would be 100% LGBTQ+.
We are not a campaign. We are 365 days of LGBTQ+ visibility, with an ethos that we are not LGBTQ+ exclusive, we are everyone inclusive and we challenge all forms of discrimination and empower our players to be their authentic selves. We believe in the power of football, and we believe every club should be an Invicta.”
During the opening months of the debut season in the NKSFL Invicta have seen tremendous support from the league and the teams they have faced. Chair and NKSFL team manager Colin Ginnaw said “The league have been very receptive to what Invicta stands for. They have been fantastic in helping us settle into the league. As part of our affiliation with Charlton Athletic, we have been taking the knee ahead of kick-off in our games and we’ve had teams and officials join us in this stand against discrimination in our game. Opposition teams have talked to us before and after games, as well as having joint team photos. In October AFC Bexley had a pre-match team photo with us holding a rainbow flag and both team captains wore rainbow armbands. It was a fanatic show of support and solidarity.”
Football is a game we all love, and we can all show support for one another. Several Invicta players shared their thoughts on the experiences this season and the support the football community has shown.
“Playing in the NKSFL this season has been an experience I won’t forget. We are breaking down barriers, making new friends and showing the league what Invicta stands for. I chose to be part of this journey into the NKSFL because I wanted to better myself and also to teach and educate people. To be a role model for others and show that you can still play football no matter what your sexuality or gender identity is. Invicta are pioneers for LGBTQ inclusion. We are making football for everyone!” - defender Daniel Crump.
“We’ve been met as equals and people treating us as a football team and not just ‘the gay team’. I’ve had a lot of personal positives and have gained so much confidence when playing and to be able to play in a league where you’re accepted is key and I’m glad the NKSFL have provided us with this safe and inclusive environment where we can express ourselves with no fear.” defender Harley Bagnall-Taylor.
The Rainbow Laces campaign has grown in stature over the past 5 years, with increased support year on year from the football community, so we asked Invicta’s NKSFL Team Assistant Manager Naomi Reid what the campaign meant to her and the club as a whole and what differences the campaign can make.
“Rainbow Laces is a fantastic campaign for the LGBTQ+ community; it shows that there is a push to make football and sport more inclusive for queer people. It offers a huge sense of pride for clubs like ours; as an LGBTQ+ club, Charlton Invicta FC always promote the campaign and it gives our players a sense of belonging. The fact that the Premier League, professional clubs, and individual players overtly support the campaign helps to spread the message that football is for everyone and that there is no place for LGBTQ+ discrimination.”
The theme of this year’s campaign is to “lace up and speak up”, so it’s important for everyone to play their part in getting the conversation started, to ensure everyone within the LGBTQ+ community feels welcome in football. With this in mind, we should never underestimate the power of allyship.
“At Invicta half of the players identify as heterosexual and see themselves as staunch allies to their LGBTQ+ teammates and the community. An ally is someone who supports somebody else’s differences different to their own and who are predominantly subject to discrimination. Invicta believes that everyone can be an ally - that we can all support each other’s differences.
Allies of the LGBTQ+ community make up such a huge part of Invicta - when launching their new training kit recently the committee decided it was imperative to have the ‘Allies’ flag embedded on the front of the shirt. Invicta LUL team manager Jon Allen spoke of the importance of Allies and speaking up in support, “It is important to speak up against injustice; We need to talk about the things that matter, like discrimination because, if the last two years have taught us anything, it isn’t one of those things that will just disappear overnight.”