How United are moving allyship forward in football

Wednesday 06 December 2023 16:53

When talking about Manchester United as a football club, the word 'family' is often brought into the conversation.

It's an institution steeped in tradition, possessing certain values, and this was no more apparent than on Tuesday evening, as United, adidas and our LGBTQ+ Supporters' Club, Rainbow Devils, teamed up for a very special event, #OneLoveLive.

Just over 100 people gathered in the Evolution Suite at Old Trafford, where guests were encouraged not only to celebrate the forthcoming five-year anniversary of Rainbow Devils, but also to open up conversations about how to be a better ally, in every walk of life.

Football, as we all know, offers an outlet for most, with the benefits of being in and around that collective mentality every week proving good for the mind, body and the soul.

But for some supporters of the Reds, the experience has brought along its own obstacles and barriers.
‘A night filled with love’ at Old Trafford Video

‘A night filled with love’ at Old Trafford

How can you be a better ally for the LGBTQ+ community? Our ‘One Love Live’ panellists answer that very question…

Some, much like myself, will have been unfamiliar with the term 'ally' – not through ignorance, but perhaps when it comes to the nuances around how it can be extremely beneficial to those in the LGBQT+ community.

Put simply, the United family wishes to open its arms to everyone who wants to follow our great club. And through conversations, and events like #OneLoveLive, we are trying to develop the conversations around it.

The evening began with a chance to mingle and meet with those who share a big passion for United, with everyone then taking their seats to watch a powerful film produced by MUTV on the Rainbow Devils' journey so far.

Sky Sports' very own Hayley McQueen firstly welcomed Eric Najib to the stage. As chair of the Devils, his story of why he set up the group stemmed from the very same emotion common among millions of Reds: his love for United.

"From having this organisation, we hope [our members] can feel safe to be themselves," began Eric.

"We have had people in our group that fell out of love for football for a while, especially in the 1980s and 1990s, where football was almost a different animal if you like.

"Now we are slowly getting back to the point where we want football to be welcoming to everybody and being inclusive to everybody, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, religion, race, colour.

"Slowly and surely we are getting there, but there is still so much more to be done."

Eric Najib delivered a powerful speech about his experiences, growing up as a gay male supporting the Reds.
Joined by a panel of exceptional guests from sport, entertainment and journalism, we also heard from the likes of Olympic swimmer Mark Foster, actor Antony Cotton and The Athletic journalist Adam Crafton.

Each shared their valuable experiences of coming out, before an eye-opening discussion ensued on how sport connects everyone, which revealed how far things have come during the 21st century.

Crafton, who worked across the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as an openly gay man, says football is beginning to change, but must continue to break down barriers.
Mark Foster, Antony Cotton, Adam Crafton and Eric Najib spoke extensively about how to be a better ally.
"I think football has traditionally been a place where many gay people – especially if you listen to them or other members of the LGBQT+ community – feel that football has not always been as welcoming as it could be,'' began Crafton.

"Events like this, hosted by Manchester United and in partnership with adidas, demonstrate an intent to engage on the subject and try to find a way forward.

"It was a pretty open and direct conversation at times, which I think is good, as if we are to do these things, there is no point to just go around the edges. That's why it really matters."
Members of United's Rainbow Devils group at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening.

As the night began to wind down, a final chance to reflect filled the room, as the set for the evening naturally began to be brought down and many headed for the exits.

One guest put it perfectly: "We are given one mouth and two ears for a reason – most seem to often forget that listening and learning often outweighs the former.'"

Football will, of course, be around for longer than all of us. But our efforts will have an impact on its future, and how refreshing it is to see United, our club, striving to make that future more welcoming, and more inclusive, for everyone.

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