Annan Athletic Football Club Chairman, Henry McClelland, has confirmed his support for greater inclusivity within Scottish football.
Not only is he and the club backing Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, they are taking concrete steps to promote and educate towards diversity.
Speaking to KaleidoScot the coach kicked off by explaining why Annan Athletic were supporting Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign. “The message is simple”, he said. “It’s about acceptability and normality. This is important to who we are as a club.
“I’ve just been into the dressing room and given the laces to Martin [McNiff, team captain] and when he asked which players wanted to wear them I heard a lot of them saying ‘I’ll have them’ without any hesitation.
“This shows how far the game has come, which is another statement the campaign makes. Twenty years ago no player would have worn rainbow laces, now they’re queuing up to wear them.”
McClelland was also eager to talk about what the club is doing to cultivate a culture of inclusivity: “The day we should look forward to is the day when we won’t need to [have campaigns like Rainbow Laces]. It’s actually sad that we should have to, but the day when we won’t have to do this isn’t too far distant.
“Here at Annan we’re starting young, making sure that acceptance is there. If you instil a message of inclusivity when they’re young, they take that forward into adult life. 300 children come through our doors on a weekly basis; we’re introducing them to the game and we take our social responsibility seriously.
“We have codes of conduct for the coaches taking a zero-tolerance approach to homophobia, racism and sexism, and we’ve not had any complaints. Football is increasingly reflecting the predominant social values of Scottish society.”
The chairman noticeably dislikes the notion of “tolerance” instead he says we should aim at acceptance. So while Stonewall’s slogan states “Some people are gay: Get over it”, McClelland’s mantra is more along the lines of “Some people are gay: they’re welcome at Annan Athletic”.
As supportive as he is of the Rainbow Laces initiative, McClelland was disappointed that both Stonewall and the mainstream media appeared not to notice their club’s involvement last year: “it was reported that only one club in Scotland wore the laces last time, but that is simply untrue”, he indicated. “We certainly did. A lot of others did as well.”
While McClelland believes that the problem of institutional homophobia is being actively challenged, he accepts there remains something of a cultural problem, especially among some supporters: “the game is changing culturally. And the way we play the game has some impact on this. A quarter of Scotland’s league clubs (including Annan Athletic) now have artificial playing surfaces.
“This moves the focus from the more physical side (and the macho, hard-man culture than inevitably went with it) to the more technical aspects of the game. Filter this down to youngsters – by default the culture of the game is being driven in a different direction.”