Rainbow Devils: A beautiful thing

Thursday 15 February 2024 18:00

There are so many moments in our new One Love film – dedicated to Manchester United's LGBTQ+ supporters' club, Rainbow Devils – that will make you stop, think and simply shiver.

Shiver with emotion? Undoubtedly, in places. To witness how fans are being empowered to share and celebrate a truer version of themselves, to find connections and new friendships with fellow Reds, is so, so moving and uplifting.
But the shiver I felt was something different; maybe even something closer to anxiety. Because in this film you get a profound sense of just how badly needed this supporters' club is; of how some people might suffer if it was not there. And then there's another shiver, as you realise how badly it was needed in the many lost decades that some United fans will never get back.
Throughout this film, we get a glimpse into many lives that are better for Rainbow Devils' presence, but there are also painful stories about the times when football pushed some of these individuals away and made them feel like they were not welcome.
‘Rainbow Devils brought me back’ Video

‘Rainbow Devils brought me back’

Rainbow Devils clip | Carl had a negative reaction to coming out and moved away, but he's thankfully back with us now...

When we first see Carl Nunnerley, he's the life and soul of the party. Bobbing and weaving around Hotel Football, chatting to fellow Rainbow Devils members, loving every minute.
But when he starts speaking to the camera, a more complicated personal picture develops. We hear about a childhood United fan, someone who had a passion for both playing and watching football from an early age.
And the story turns sour. He reveals his sexuality to family and friends, and the reaction is far from positive. He's no longer invited to play for local football teams; people did not really want to go to Old Trafford with him. Ultimately, he leaves United and Manchester behind, moving to London.

Rainbow Devils has helped usher him back to matches in recent years, but he can't help but note the many glorious United seasons that passed him by.
Hopefully that now sounds like a tragic story from an ancient era of punishing prejudice. Football has come a long way in the 21st century: as Cass Hyde points out later in the film, the women's game has acted as an important "stepping stone" for many LGBTQ+ fans. There are many professional players who are keen representatives of the community, and the inclusive fan culture surrounding women's football is well documented.
But your heart breaks when you see some of the older fans in the film, such as Silvia, say something like: "Most of my life I've had to hide who I am."
Sheila-Anne Summer admits that she cried when the Rainbow Devils banner was first erected at Old Trafford in 2021, and acknowledges the wonder of feeling comfortable to "be yourself for the first time".
'When I saw the banner, I cried!' Video

'When I saw the banner, I cried!'

Rainbow Devils clip | A supporters' club banner in the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand remains an emotional sight for members...

As a heterosexual fan who's never had to deal with these nuances in 30 years of coming to Old Trafford, it's agonising to think that some Reds might have missed out on Macheda's winner against Villa, Scholes's screamer versus Barcelona or countless other magical moments, for no fault of their own.
Of course, all experiences are different. I've spoken to Rainbow Devils' chairman Naj – who appears throughout the film – numerous times, and he has shared many positive stories about how United fans accepted him for who he was after he came out to them in May 1999.
He once told me a story about being approached by a group of Reds in a pub at Tottenham away. These lads' ability to, shall we say, handle themselves was well-known within the United fanbase at the time, and Naj initially feared the worst, only to spend the next hour fielding many inquisitive questions about his sexuality from curious, well-meaning supporters.
Trailer | One Love: Rainbow Devils Video

Trailer | One Love: Rainbow Devils

Watch the trailer for the new One Love film, Rainbow Devils, all about our inspirational LGBTQ+ supporters club...

But that variety of different experiences is why Rainbow Devils' emergence is so important. Because it does not leave individual fans alone, without support, whatever they may need help with.
Young fan Ben Faulkner is shown meeting some of his fellow Rainbow Devils members for the first time at a social event at Hotel Football, and by the end we can see him enjoying being part of a group, having made friends.
Last year, the supporters' club's vice-chair Lindsey Parr told me that it was common for fans to first make contact online, and then build confidence through chat groups and forums.
“A lot of them are saying that they’ve been quite shy to come to games or to come to socials,” explains Parr, “so that online bit has given them that first step to come and meet us.
“It’s been a journey for a lot of people, being part of the LGBTQ+ community and being a football fan. Honestly, I have little tears in my eyes reading some of the stories, because it’s been a long journey for some people to accept themselves, and football being a part of that.”
'I was adamant I would never come out' Video

'I was adamant I would never come out'

Rainbow Devils clip | Ben was a talented footballer, but coming out meant he had to step away. Now, he's rebuilding his confidence...

The film puts some of those stories into vivid life, and I think it's important for as many Reds as possible to watch and understand why the club is increasing its attempts to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion at Old Trafford and beyond.

We all hear those words a lot nowadays, and we'll all have heard sceptics claim that they are tokenistic. But what the Rainbow Devils episode of One Love does is put those words to one side and let the stories show why these issues are critical; why it's so vital that people are coming together to make a real difference to the lives of other human beings.

The words I chose for the headline of this piece were spoken by Cass Hyde, and I went for them because our LGBTQ+ group is indeed "a beautiful thing". The scenes of joy and celebration within this One Love episode demonstrate that wonderfully.

But it's not just beautiful. As the experiences shared by the supporters in this film prove, it's also a deeply important thing for the Manchester United fanbase.

One Love | Rainbow Devils will premiere on MUTV this Friday at 20:00 GMT.

Previous 'One Love' films:

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    Trailblazers: The opening scene

    One Love: Trailblazers | Watch the opening scene from our latest MUTV Original, introducing several key characters...

  • One Love | Trailblazers Video

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    'One Love: Trailblazers' welcomes you to our heart-warming Manchester United Women Supporters' Club...

  • One Love | Keep The Red Flag Flying High Video

    One Love | Keep The Red Flag Flying High

    MUTV Original | 'Keep The Red Flag Flying High' is our film about the vital Manchester Munich Memorial Foundation...

  • One Love: Common Ground Video

    One Love: Common Ground

    One Love film | Common Ground follows three disabled Reds with inspirational stories, as they attend a match at OT...

  • One Love: United Across Borders Video

    One Love: United Across Borders

    ONE LOVE FILM | Each and every United match is watched by fans all around the world, with incredible stories to share...

  • One Love: Memory Collectors Video

    One Love: Memory Collectors

    One Love: Memory Collectors | The fourth film in our series tells the stories of three memorabilia-obsessed Reds…