“I didn’t start playing football until my late teens.
“Growing up in Leeds, I played rugby league from an early age and made it to a high standard by the time I became a teenager, but after a couple of years I stopped playing all sport for a variety of reasons.
“My family life was really difficult at that time; my parents had separated, and I was briefly made homeless and had to live in a hostel with my dad.
“I had also started to realise I was different from all the other boys - I found it very difficult to cope with my emerging sexuality in that environment and retreated into a life of staying in playing video games.
“I knew I was gay from when I was about 13 years old, but I didn’t know how to express my true feelings as I feared the persecution I would get from family, friends and people in general.
“Knowing that I also liked guys older than myself made things even harder. Growing up in a working class environment in Leeds I didn’t have anyone else to talk to and didn’t know anyone else who was gay.
“I was a young lad in a homophobic environment with a massive secret that I had no choice but to keep to myself.
“I kept these feelings bottled up until I was 16 when I broke down in tears in front of my best friend who is like a brother to me - the reaction I got was the best thing I could have hoped for.
“He was there for me then and still continues to be there and support me to this day - as I do for him.
“Coming out to my closest friend gave me the confidence to get out more and having always enjoyed watching football and playing with friends, I decided to join a local amateur team near where I lived.
“No-one knew I was gay. No-one in the team was gay.
“I tried my hardest to fit in, but I couldn’t be myself. I had no choice but to join in with the typical gay jokes and banter that were commonplace.
“It took another few years until I was 19 before I came out to my family, with mixed response.
“Some of my family immediately gave me the love and support that I hoped for, but which I didn’t know if they would be able to provide - unfortunately, others were less welcoming of the news.
“I even got offers from a close family member to pay for gay counselling in the hope it would turn me straight as they were confused with my ‘decision’ to be gay.
“I didn’t speak to some close family members for a couple of months, but they then called me and apologised with all their heart and we continue to love each other very much. They just needed some time to realise that this wasn’t a choice; it was, and is, who I am.
“At this point I joined a new local football team, and decided to be open about my sexuality.
“To be honest the response couldn’t have been better - no-one cared that I was gay. There was still banter, but I never felt that it was offensive or aimed at me personally. I’m sure that this wouldn’t be everyone’s experience, but it was mine.
“I’d like to think that more people in my position would also have a positive experience if they were brave enough to be open about their sexuality and stand up for who they are, but I know that this is easier to say than to put into practice.
“There will always be homophobia, but my experience is that there are actually more people out there who will stick up for you and fight against those who think this sort of behaviour is acceptable.
“When I was 19, I met my current partner at Leeds pride. He lived in Nottingham, so I made the trip on the train every weekend to see him.
“He introduced me to one of his good friends, who is the captain of the Nottingham Lions – the local LGBT football team - and when I moved in with my boyfriend a year or so later, I joined the team.
“It was the best decision of my life as the whole team is like a family. The club is totally inclusive of everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation, background and no matter their ability at football.
“We are there for each other, no matter what.
“Even though my experience playing for a non-LGBT team was positive, I would encourage anyone in my position with an interest in football to join their local LGBT team.
“We play in a LGBT league, but also play friendlies against a range of local teams. We organise lots of social events and also promote LGBT football in the community, including with the local league club, Nottingham Forest, who champion LGBT football.
“I have always loved football. I love to play and watch and I have always had a dream to make it professionally. Even though the years are getting on, I still wish that my dream could become a reality.
“I just need that one shot to bring the house down, and to be an out gay professional footballer would be a huge step forward in terms of acceptance.
“My advice to any football club wishing to become more LGBT inclusive is to work with local LGBT venues and LGBT football teams in their area to promote and advertise their club and its inclusive aims.
“In the same way as racial abuse is not tolerated, homophobia should also not be tolerated and anyone doing so should be ejected from the venue.
“I know now that being gay is normal. Supporting and playing football whilst being gay is also normal, and there are many in the LGBT community who do just that.
“I look forward to the day when this is open, transparent and fully accepted across all levels and in all environments.”
Nottingham Lions FC provide an environment where players and supporters can enjoy football regardless of their sexual orientation.
In addition to league fixtures, the club plays friendly games and five-a-side tournaments.
Training takes place in Nottingham on Sundays from 6pm-8pm, and they also have a mid-week 5-a-side kickabout on Tuesday evenings.
They will also be proudly hosting their annual five-a-side tournament in aid of Football v Homophobia’s month of action in February.
If you’d like to find out more about the club or their events, contact email@example.com, and to find out more about what the Derbyshire FA are doing to support the 2019 Rainbow Laces campaign, click here.