Rainbow Laces: Ashby United holding campaign charity game after incident in which player endured 'torrent' of homophobic abuse

A charity match has been organised by Callum Prince, who was involved in a horrible incident of homophobic abuse in non-league football.

A non-league club will hold a charity match on Saturday after one of their players was subjected to a torrent of homophobic abuse.

The Hood Park ground is where the Ashby United Community Football Club will play the Wildecats on Saturday.

The match has been arranged after an incident in June in which Ashby's Callum Prince was subjected to a sustained period of homophobic abuse from spectators while running the line in an away fixture in the Burton & District Sunday Football League.

The home team Springfield Sportsbar FC was punished by the Football Association with a fine, penalty points, and a severe warning for their future conduct.

Prince gave evidence at the FA hearing and said that spectators who were cheering for Springfield shouted abuse at him as he was about to make his way to the touchline.

The commission panel found Springfield guilty of an FA Rule E21 offence relating to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and punished the club with an offence falling into the 'high' category.

Prince said that the abuse had an effect on him. He was not in the matchday squad for the game, but was asked to run the line in the second half, a common request at that level.

"It was a top-of-the-table clash at the end of the season," said Prince. A large crowd had gathered for a Sunday league game. There were about 30 to 50 people standing behind me when I was on the touchline.

The abuse got worse as the half wore on, especially when Ashby moved into a 3-1 lead. It was very upsetting. I froze in the moment.

When the incident occurred, Ashby United were playing an away game against a promotion rival.

No one challenged what was being said towards Prince. The official told him he wouldn't act unless someone tried to trip him up while he was running the line, but he told the referee during a water break he was being abused. He said that he felt let down.

The comments about homosexuality continued. Prince made an incorrect decision at the end of the game. He noted in his statement that he was asked if his dad touched him when he was a kid.

The comment about his father was difficult to process for Prince. At the age of nine, my dad took me to my first football game and I have been a huge fan ever since.

I'm the vice-chair and media officer at Ashby, and I've coached U17 and U18 teams.

I've always felt welcome and on the same level as everyone else, but I felt that was taken away from me with what happened. I stopped playing for a while after the incident.

My team-mates were horrified at the abuse, which really helped.
Prince is a member of the Ashby United CFC.

It's powerful to wear rainbow laces.

During the annual activation of Rainbow Laces, Prince shared his personal story on the Ashby United CFC website. He was welcomed by his fellow students and that the space was inclusive after he came out as gay in college.

He found a similar environment at the club, where the club supported the campaign for inclusion in sport. The day of England's Euro 2020 opener against Croatia, Prince was wearing rainbow laces in his boots.

I always have them in my boots. He said that at the time, at least one of his fellow players was still wearing them.

The abuse started when someone saw the laces. I will continue to wear them despite what happened. The sport is for everyone. We shouldn't have to fear being abused for who we are.

If you're not gay, wearing laces is powerful. When your team-mates show their support for you, you should be treated the same as a fellow footballer.

Prince is the vice-chair and media officer at the club and he says he has always been welcomed by his teammates.

He told the other players what happened during the game. They were horrified. I didn't mention it to anyone else, apart from what I said to the ref. I didn't want the team to be distracted.

Everyone was very supportive when I described it. The league and county FA were made aware of the complaint the next day.

It took five months for the process to run its course and Prince had to attend the hearing with the other parties. It was my testimony that was under scrutiny, so I was concerned that it was my testimony that was being scrutinized. If no one else says they heard it, would it be thrown out?

The people on the FA panel were very calm. I hadn't spoken about it much except to some close friends, so they encouraged me to talk about it. It made me lose my love for football and put me on edge.

I had to relive the abuse every time there was an update. I struggled at times.

Prince is thankful to his fellow players and staff.

The FA's written reasons show how the Commission would be satisfied if it considered that the occurrence of the event was more likely than not.

The panel members were satisfied with the fact that the charge against Springfield was proven and that the breaching factor had also been met.

Prince is playing again with the club that plays in the National League of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Network. The Wildecats will play a game against Ashby on Saturday in order to raise money for the charity Rainbow Laces.

He believes that the message that the match sends out should be taken by those in non-league football.

"When there are incidents of homophobia in the league, it becomes high-profile," says Prince.

It's not that it's happening more, because it's always been there, but I believe this stuff is more common at a grassroots level. It's rare for people to bother to report it.

"We've seen fantastic awareness raised through Rainbow Laces at the elite level but I feel this strikes at a bigger conversation because it highlights how this is still a major issue at grassroots."

The opposition for the game against Ashby will be the Wildecats FC, who have recently added Prince.

Prince is proud to have helped turn a negative experience into an event that is all about positive vibes.

He wants spectators at games at all levels who witness abuse to challenge those responsible for it if it is safe to do so and to report the abuse through the appropriate channels.

I would encourage more people to get involved. If someone uses a slur, report it to a steward.

My experience has charged me to drive inclusion in any way I can. If it helps one person to feel more confident in who they are, and shows that this type of behavior is not acceptable, let's do that. Let's take a stand.

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Strong visible displays of allyship, such as England's Harry Kane wearing a rainbow captain's armband, are valuable ways to show support for team-mates who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Trans.

Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride, which supports the Rainbow Laces campaign. Please contact us if you have a story about being LGBTQ+ or an ally that could help to make sport everyone's game.