Football’s anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out has expressed its “serious concern” over some of new Wimbledon manager Wally Downes’ tweets.
The League One club appointed their former player as manager on Tuesday despite him sending at least one tweet that mocked football’s Rainbow Laces campaign.
Now in its sixth year, the campaign was started by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) charity Stonewall to fight homophobia in sport.
Wimbledon’s players wore rainbow laces during their home game against Southend last month, with the corner flags and substitution boards also sporting the distinctive colour scheme.
And in 2013, the League One club became the first professional team to join the pan-European ‘Football Fans Against Homophobia’ campaign.
But in September, Downes tweeted comments, while coaching in India, which appeared to mock the campaign and used the hashtag #RainbowLacesTurbans”.
The 57-year-old, who has now deleted his Twitter account, has spent much of the last year coaching in India.
In a statement released to Press Association Sport, Kick It Out said: “We have been speaking to the club over the last few days and expressed our serious concerns over some of the tweets from Wally Downes.”
The club addressed the matter in their statement to announce Downes’ appointment.
“During the recruitment process we became aware of some use of social media by Wally that is not consistent with our values,” the club said.
“We have talked at length with Wally about this, who has accepted that these messages were ill-judged and he has assured us that they do not represent his views.
“In the light of these discussions, we are satisfied that these do not represent Wally’s views. We have agreed a series of actions with Wally that we believe will demonstrate his commitment to the club’s values.”
Downes, who succeeds Neil Ardley in the Kingsmeadow dugout, said: “I am very proud to be appointed as manager of a club I love dearly.
“I apologise for my previous use of social media – my comments were meant to be humorous but on reflection they were a mistake.
“I am very aware of my responsibilities as Wimbledon’s manager and immensely proud to have been appointed. I am now looking forward to working flat out to help to keep the club in League 1.”
Kirsty Clarke, director of sport at Stonewall, said: “Tackling offensive comments is a crucial part of helping LGBT people feel welcome in sport.
“Language is really influential and so it’s important Wally Downes recognises this with his apology.
“It’s also important that AFC Wimbledon have stepped up to challenge his abusive comments.
“We hope Downes reflects seriously on his apology and turns it into action to help sport become a more inclusive place for LGBT people.”
Downes’ appointment will be warmly received by most Wimbledon fans as he represents a link to the club’s ‘Crazy Gang’ era in the 1980s.
Their rise from non-league football to the old First Division was capped by victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final. But 15 years after that triumph, the club was moved to Milton Keynes, forcing fans to launch a new club in south London and start the climb from non-league once more.
After injuries forced him to retire at 27, Downes worked as Steve Coppell’s assistant at Crystal Palace, Brentford and Reading, before taking the top job at Brentford between 2002 and 2004. Since then, he has coached at Southampton and West Ham and then joined up with Coppell again at Indian sides Jamshedpur and ATK.