Colin Dowling, who plays for LGBTQ+ club Mersey Marauders among others, has been talking to us about his experiences of being LGBTQ+ in grassroots football and the impact of the Rainbow Laces campaign.
How are you involved in the grassroots game?
"I currently play Saturday league football for Eastham Vets, Houlihan Birkenhead Sunday League football for Wirral Radio FC, and for Mersey Marauders in the Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN).
"I also play charity matches for a variety of causes.
"I play football to the best of my ability and show confidence in hope to inspire others to be their best - no matter their background."
Why do you think the Rainbow Laces Campaign is important and what impact do you think the campaign has had in recent years?
"The Rainbow Laces campaign is important and it is vital in raising awareness and making sure everyone is aware that it is okay to be LGBTQ+ and enjoy the sport they love.
"Thankfully, I have seen abuse towards LGBTQ+ people reduce significantly since I started playing, but I have witnessed incidents of homophobic language, both in grassroots and professional football, creep back into the game in the last couple of years."
What support did you receive from the grassroots football community when you came out?
"When I came out there was no support available whatsoever, and I stayed out of the game for three years – afraid. That was until I stumbled across Mersey Marauders FC online after suffering homophobic abuse in Sunday league football.
"Once I started playing for Mersey Marauders, I felt in a safe space and started getting my confidence back. As time passed, I found myself being asked to come back into Sunday league.
"I always adopt the attitude of ‘let my football to do the talking’. A lot of it comes down to self-confidence and not being afraid. I try to be a role model for other members of the LGBTQ+ community to look up to."
Is the grassroots game, and football generally, accepting of people from the LGBTQ+ community?
"I would say it has definitely progressed over the last 15 years.
"With campaigns such as Rainbow Laces and Kick it Out advertised across social media and around stadiums etc, it has become much more acceptable now. Although, unfortunately, you still get a small number of incidents occurring."
What support have you received from Liverpool FA and other partners regarding LGBTQ+? What more needs to be done?
"Mersey Marauders FC has now become affiliated to Liverpool County FA, and one of our members sits on the Inclusionary Advisory Group. We have also had support from Liverpool FA when hosting tournaments and linking in with County FA Football.
"In terms of changes, we would like to see the rules changed at a national level to allow players, and clubs, who suffer from homophobic abuse to walk off the field without being sanctioned."
How can others support the LGBTQ+ football community?
"We are on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and we openly welcome any support. The club has a superb, open and relaxed environment, and we also welcome any additional sponsors."
If we were to speak again in 12 months, what change would you like to have seen take place?
"The one thing I have seen from two particular clubs in our GFSN league is that Newcastle Panthers and Charlton Invicta are affiliated by Newcastle United and Charlton athletic respectively - this is such a fantastic step and the support they receive is a joy to see. I wish other clubs followed suit!"
What advice would you give to anybody else considering coming out?
"Do not let the fear consume you! It is okay to be LGBTQ+ - it does not change the fact you can play football. Don’t stop playing the game you love!
"I lost years not playing because I was afraid but, once I got my boots back on, I realised there was nothing to be afraid of. Don’t make the same mistake I made."
You can find more information on how to support the Rainbow Laces campaign through the FA's Activation Pack.