Rainbow Owls member Dominic Stevenson conducts a powerful interview with LGBTQ+ ally and fellow Wednesdayite Martyn Ware as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Rainbow Laces campaign on Saturday at Hillsborough.
It is no secret that football-loving members of the LGBTQ+ community have a tough road to hoe. After all, Galop’s Hate Crime Report from 2021 states that 64% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced anti-LGBTQ+ violence or abuse, with such figures continuing to increase amid the current socio-political climate.
Sheffield Wednesday’s own LGBTQ+ supporters’ group, Rainbow Owls, founded in June 2023, have registered more than 100 members and over 1,000 Twitter followers in their first three months.
LGBTQ+ members of these supporters’ groups can only do so much to fight back and bring the inclusivity that should always be part of the match-going experience, however. Especially as some LGBTQ+ fans are understandably scared of how they will be treated on the terraces and around the grounds. For true change, the active support of straight allies is also necessary to ensure that, as we move forward, these statistics fall dramatically.
One such powerful voice belongs to Martyn Ware, a musician and composer who is best known for being a founding member of Heaven 17 and The Human League. Martyn is also a Wednesdayite responsible for co-writing and producing The Hillsborough Crew’s 1993 anthem ‘If It's Wednesday, It Must Be Wembley’.
His LGBTQ+ allyship has been shown throughout his career in music, too, whether through producing Erasure’s 1994 album I Say, I Say, I Say or interviewing the likes of Chicago House pioneer Derrick Carter and Britpop star David McAlmont on his Electronically Yours podcast.
Most recently, Martyn has joined up with Rainbow Owls to become one of their founding ambassadors, joining Nick Matthew OBE, a three-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist in squash; Niall Guite, a two-time Special Olympics gold medallist in basketball and cycling; and Clive Betts MP, a fellow Sheffield Wednesday fan and an openly gay politician.
Martyn is clear that LGBTQ+ activism and engagement in football is a positive thing, as he believes that he must use his voice to further the rights of others.
He said: “I am a Wednesdayite and I believe in equality for all. I am in an unusual situation where I have some profile so people might listen to me.
“I always want to use my voice to help underrepresented people and I think, in football terms, LGBTQIA+ rights have been swept under the carpet. I think it’s fantastic that, on a club-wide basis and across clubs across the country, the community is coming out the closet and making itself heard.
“I think it’s very positive that people are supporting others in helping them to be whatever and whoever they wish to be.”
Martyn has spent over half a century as a match-going Wednesday fan, but his blue and white blood goes back even further.
“My family have been Wednesdayites since the inception of the club,” he explained. “My grandfather was born before the club was founded, so it’s a family affair and my son has followed in our footsteps.
“I’ve had a Season Ticket since the ‘70s. First, in the North Stand, but I’ve gone across to the Grandstand now. My first ever game was the greatest game I’ve ever seen: Wednesday 5 Manchester United 4. George Best scored, Denis Law scored, Bobby Charlton played, too, but the European champions couldn’t combat a Jack Whitton hat-trick.”
I had to embarrassingly reveal to Martyn that my first match was a first-leg Littlewoods Cup-tie against Aldershot in September 1989. It was a 0-0 draw, and my Dad has always said, if I could remember the football, I’d never have gone back!
For all its ups and downs, I am glad that I went back, and I have kept going back for 34 years. But I have seen increasing hostility towards others; particularly at away games, to the point where I will now only go to home games and only if I go with family.
If you don’t believe equal rights should be extended to all, then consider how you’d feel if someone tried to take your rights away from you.
According to a YouGov survey from August 2023, 7% of Britons said that they have a negative view of lesbian and gay people, with 9% having a negative view of bisexual people, while 25% of Britons admit to having a negative view of transgender people. These numbers are still 7%, 9% and 25% higher than they should be, but they also reveal that, if you’re the person abusing members of the LGBTQ+ community at a football match or elsewhere, you are in the minority – by a long way.
If our beautiful game is to flourish, then football, ranging from clubs to supporters, needs to be more proactive in welcoming minority or marginalised communities who are not traditionally engaged in football.
For more information on Rainbow Owls, please visit their website HERE.
You can join the group by submitting a membership form HERE.
Visit the Rainbow Owls X account HERE.