Human rights charity Stonewall has linked up with betting company Paddy Power to challenge football players to show their support for gay footballers by wearing rainbow coloured boot laces.

The laces have already been distributed to every footballer across all 134 professional clubs in the UK, with all 5,000 players being asked to wear the special laces on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 September.

Stonewall Deputy Chief Executive Laura Doughty said: ‘The campaign’s simple message of “Right Behind Gay Footballers” is designed to kick start a change in attitudes and make our national game more gay-friendly.’

Fans and the public are being asked to back the campaign by taking to social media and using the hashtag #RBGF, Right Behind Gay Footballers, with up to 800 RBGF tweets being sent in the first few hours alone.

Daily advertising and editorials aim to get support from footballers, celebrities, fans and the public – earlier today, Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton showed his support in a tweet to his 2.3 million followers, and received an overwhelmingly positive response, with many fans asking where to buy the laces.

Doughty continues: ‘It’s time for football clubs and players to step up and make a visible stand against homophobia in our national game. That’s why we’re working with Paddy Power on this fun and simple campaign. [tweetable alt=”‘Wearing rainbow laces, football players will send a message of support to gay players’: @StonewallUK’s Laura Doughty”]By wearing rainbow laces players will send a message of support to gay players and can begin to drag football in to the 21st century.[/tweetable]’

A spokesman for Paddy Power said: ‘Football needs a kick up the arse. In most other areas of life people can be open about their sexuality and [tweetable alt=”‘It’s time for football to show players it doesn’t matter what team they play for’: @PaddyPower in support of #RBGF “]it’s time for football to take a stand and show players it doesn’t matter what team they play for[/tweetable]. Fans can show they are right behind this by simply tweeting using the #RBGF hashtag.’

Positive response from Joey Barton's fans

Positive response from Joey Barton’s fans

Stonewall’s media manager Richard Lane explains: ‘It’s clear that football is Britain’s national game. It’s also clear that homophobia in football is a tough nut to crack. That’s why we want to try something different. We’re working with Paddy Power and directly with fans to make things better for players and supporters.

‘We want this campaign to be fun, a bit cheeky and definitely a bit tongue in cheek. We think it will raise an eyebrow and raise awareness at the same time.

But Tom Hayes, who tweets as @UKPositiveLad, wondered if the tone was wrong, commenting: ‘The new campaign has left a distinctly bad taste in my mouth. The phrase “we’re right behind you” and others such as “backs against the wall” were commonplace in the homophobic bullying I was subjected to during school sports. In my opinion the tacky humour cheapens what is otherwise an important and necessary campaign.’

Across all the professional clubs around England, Scotland and Wales, there are no footballers who have come out. The chances of there being no gay men among them, calculates Paddy Power, is 1 in 2.29 x 10134 – or one in a quadragintillion. That’s 22,947,321,563,647,480 followed by 117 zeros! As a comparison, this is similar odds to predicting the correct score in 150 consecutive football matches.