Wednesday 01 Dec
Updated Wednesday 01 Dec 12:53

Academy of Football shares messages of inclusion in support of Rainbow Laces

Will Greenidge

Every single player, coach and member of staff who walks into Chadwell Heath receives immediate indoctrination into the values defined by the Academy of Football.

The walls of the Academy’s training base are adorned with the four key principles of the ‘West Ham Way’, four crucial components which underpin not only each individual’s development, but combined, that of the collective. 

Everybody there must be hard-working; everybody present should strive to be exciting; everybody should have a positive, constructive attitude; and everybody must strive to achieve togetherness.

This year’s Rainbow Laces campaign encourages people to speak up on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community, tasking them with showing that togetherness by engaging others in meaningful conversations about allyship and inclusion.

This year, this has manifested itself in a series of Academy initiatives aimed at bringing together players, staff and parents to further round the education which the future starlets receive, so that they can play their part in the inclusive society of tomorrow.

This initially manifested itself in joint projects between the U13s/U14s and U15s/U16s groups, who were tasked with explaining – in succinct messages of inclusion – what acceptance meant to them.Rainbow Laces messages

Academy Player Care Officer Evan Hall explained: “For the Rainbow Laces campaign initially, it was quite a simple, but meaningful, thing we asked the players to do: we asked them what inclusion and acceptance mean to them. 

“That just got them thinking about the topic. They all understood what we were asking and bought into the meaning of their words, and I think there are some really thoughtful messages that have come out of it. 

“It was a nice starting point for the boys to start thinking about inclusivity means to them and how they can start to educate themselves, as well as how to be supportive and inclusive teammates in the future.”

The initial activity will be supported by a further Academy-wide workshop this week, open to players from across the age groups and delivered in partnership with Stonewall, who conduct the Rainbow Laces campaign alongside the Premier League.

Hall added: “We’re working with Erin Williams, the Sport Engagement Manager at Stonewall, around the Rainbow Laces campaign. 

“We thought having a webinar this week, off the back of the activities we’ve already done with the boys, could be really beneficial in allowing them to learn a bit more about why they have been considering what they were considering in their tasks. 

“I think it’s quite powerful, when that message has been in the spotlight, out there for the world to see, just having that moment back in the Academy as well. That’s quite important.”

Such campaigns are also crucial, Hall explains, to players’ holistic development – and further information will also be disseminated to staff and parents to support this.

He noted: “It’s key for Player Care specifically, but also the wider Club, to make sure that everyone feels really welcome, regardless of who you are, what religion you practice or what your sexual orientation might be.

“Just having that open environment, where all the young players understand that, plays a big role in Player Care and making people feel welcome and valued. It’s about making sure everyone is on the same page, allowing them to be confident, to be honest and to be open.

“Doing this in their teenage years, especially when boys and girls can be at different levels of maturity and how open they feel they can be, is important, so that they can have an environment where they can talk if they want to. 

“They’re all buying into the activities together and working together regularly in their teams, so I think it’s important that they can all be themselves.

“The Academy values are: hard-working, exciting, positive attitude and togetherness. This campaign definitely ties into the latter, making sure that we’re all together as one. 

“Throughout the Academy this year, we’re trying to implement multiple cultural spotlights around the different campaigns that we’ve got throughout the year. 

“We’re highlighting them to players, parents and staff, really creating that togetherness and just sending out the message that everyone is respected here and valued here.”

Aji Alese wears the rainbow armband

The Academy has also thrown its support behind Rainbow Laces through a number of matchday activities, with players and staff wearing rainbow-themed captain’s armbands, laces and pin badges.

U23s captain Ajibola Alese – who has been at West Ham since he was eight-years-old – reiterated the values which underpinned that support when he wore the rainbow armband in the 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers U23s last week.

Alese confirmed: “As an Academy, we’re inclusive of everyone, so I think showing support for Rainbow Laces is really important. For anyone who feels like they might not be part of the norm in this game, they should know that are just as much a part of it.

“When you step out onto the pitch here, it’s about what you can do on the ball and how you play. We’re taught here from a young age that when you’re on the pitch, nothing else matters – football is everyone’s sport.”