Wrexham AFC is going to win a Football v Homophobia award.
The club, which is being taken over by It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia actor Rob McElhenney, and Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds, will be recognised for its LGBT+ inclusion work at the Puma-sponsored FvH Awards, in the Non-League category on Friday.
Wrexham is certain to win because it the only club put forward for the Non-League gong, with all six steps of the National League System eligible.
The judges for the award have noted Wrexham’s relentlessly positive approach, amid frustrating circumstances in 2020.
The club had made substantial plans for a designated FvH matchday in February last year but were twice thwarted. First it was by Storm Dennis on the initial date, and then by the pandemic for the rescheduled fixture.
It has recently launched Proud Dragons, our LGBTQ+ fans group, which is the latest development in Wrexham’s long-running support for the Football v Homophobia campaign, which is marking its annual Month of Action.
Rob McElhenney is also fiercely supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. His parents divorced when he was eight-years-old after his mother came out as a lesbian, and his two younger brothers are gay as well.
In 2018 he told the online Hollywood news publication, Deadline: “I have always been part of the gay community. It’s just always been a part of my life.”
This coincided with an episode of the 12th season of Sunny in which his central character Mac comes out as gay.
In its mission statement to the club, the owners elect committed to: “Recognise and reinforce Wrexham AFC’s role as a leading force for community good in the town. Work with the club’s disability liaison officer, Kerry Evans, to retain and enhance Wrexham’s reputation as an inclusive and forward-thinking club, alongside other important local groups such as the Racecourse Community Foundation, food banks, and schools.”
Wrexham AFC’s approach is being spearheaded by Steve Lloyd, who is a member of the board of the club’s supporter’s trust. The mental health nurse who now works as an autism assessor, he also serves as the fan-owned club’s Community Lead, with responsibility for diversity and inclusion.
He told Sky Sports: “We’ve achieved so much since we’ve owned the club, but in the last few years, the community work has come on huge amounts.
“We’re the only autism-friendly football stadium in Wales, and we’re also dementia-friendly. I run a men’s peer-support group called Dragon Chat that addresses mental health.
“And now we’ve just launched Proud Dragons, our LGBTQ+ fans group, with the hope of getting that part of the inclusion message out there. We’ve had a really good initial response.”
“There was the odd comment along the lines of, ‘looks as though you’re going to win it because you’re the only ones nominated!’
“But if we’re one of the few clubs that’s done something on LGBTQ+ inclusion, and the only team nominated in the National League, I think that says more about the other clubs than it does about us.”
It will be the captain and boss Dean Keates who deliver the award acceptance speech, according to Lloyd. “If you’ve got your manager and your club skipper saying how thankful we are and that it’s important to include everyone, it puts a lot of weight behind it.
“That’s where I can see the difference at Wrexham. The players and staff really get what we’re doing.”
Wrexham’s designated Football v Homophobia matchday is on February 13. Though there won’t be fans in attendance at the Racecourse, but TV cameras will covering it for a Saturday evening kick-off against Notts County.
Lloyd said: “The players will hold up a big Proud Dragons rainbow banner and they’ll be wearing the kit.
Lloyd took on his Community Lead role soon after joining the board three years ago, having volunteered with them for over a decade,
There’s a family connection that influenced his LGBT+ allyship because his daughter Natalie came out as gay at the age of 17.
He said:”I know the struggles that she had at the time. It was strange because as a parent, I still vividly remember the day when she told me. I laughed a little and said, ‘and…? That’s fine, don’t worry!’ To me, it really wasn’t an issue but for her, it was such a big thing.”
He wants to make Proud Dragons an open place for building dialogue within the community.
He said: “I think there’s a lot of supporters out there who would join a group like this, if they know it’s there.
“Wrexham is probably like most towns. The demographic has changed a lot in recent years and there are more minorities within the town now. That’s where we want to reach out to, because we don’t want people to think there are any barriers in going to games.
“We’ve worked hard to make Wrexham a family-friendly, inclusive club. The Proud Dragons is just another avenue that means supporters can come in and feel welcome.”