Football, friendship and Asexuality – Beatrice & Dia

Beatrice (FvH Youth Panel Co-Coordinator) and Dia met through a mutual friend around 4 years ago. They bonded over a mutual love of football/soccer and baking. They also discovered they were both asexual, which was very exciting for them both as they had never met another asexual person before! They’ve teamed up to share their experiences of football and asexuality. 

Beatrice: My uncle rang me up before my 5th birthday and told me that he was going to buy me an Arsenal shirt and that meant I would have to start supporting them. As an eager six year old, I didn’t really know what he was on about, but was very enthusiastic about it. At Primary School I played football with my classmates. I was rubbish and barely kicked a ball, but it was a space where I could be social, develop friendships and just laugh a whole lot. That’s where the love of football began!

For almost 20 years, football has been a space for me to socialise and build connections. Whether that’s with old friends, new friends or family. It’s a place where I can  focus on viewing the game or playing the game and just exist in that moment.

Dia: Football (or soccer over here in the US) is definitely a place that helps foster those connections in society. That’s one of the things I love about being a supporter of the Portland Thorns. When you go to a game, it doesn’t matter where you’ve come from or what your day at work was like; the only thing that matters is you supporting the Thorns along with the 16K other fans in the stadium. Whether it is cheering for a goal, groaning at a missed opportunity, or booing the referees, there is this overwhelming sense that you aren’t alone. For the 2+ hours I’m in that stadium, I’m a part of something bigger than myself.

Beatrice: As a 15/16 year old I joined a team, alongside weekly trips to my non league club with Dad. I quickly felt daunted by the team environment. Here was a group of girls all talking about who fancied who at their school, who they were flirting with and whispers about who was a lesbian in the team. None of these topics were interesting to me. I just wanted to talk about football or talk about other hobbies and interests. Potential partners were not on my list of interests. 

Dia: High School was an equally rough time for me as well. I didn’t make our high school football team, but my best friend did, so it was really challenging to not have football be a part of my identity at school but to still be supportive of my friend. It was also super confusing because I still had romantic attraction for a couple of guys (and a couple of girls, but I didn’t recognize that until after college) but had absolutely zero interest in any type of physical intimacy. 

Beatrice: I joined training sessions for the university football team, but encountered a similar situation. This time, the team was also bonding outside of training and matches, during nights out. I had no desire to go to clubs, so felt a little isolated from the team each week, as there would be new friendships formed and new gossip to share. I know I had the power to form friendships in a different space, but I was falling out of love with playing the game and so this experience helped me drop out quicker. I felt very different from the rest of the team; as though I was missing something.

Dia: Just not having the words to describe what you’re feeling is so isolating. In high school, all of my female friends were getting in and out of relationships, so I knew I was different for not wanting the same things, but it was actually pretty easy to pretend that I did. I got really good at passing as straight and allo in high school to the point where I was even fooling myself. “Oh, I’m not in a relationship with anyone because no one here meets my standards, but the second I’m in college with so many new people, I’m sure I’ll find someone and that’s when I’ll enjoy and want all the physical acts as well.” I’m an avid reader, I knew what sex was and I knew it was supposed to feel awesome, but it took me a really long time to recognize the fact that I had never been physically turned on by anyone. And still haven’t.

Dia: As sad as it is, Tumblr was what introduced me to the idea of asexuality, and that’s when the lightbulb went on. Yes, I was able to learn about it eventually, but how awesome would it have been to know about it in high school? Or middle school? (Primary school, I think, for the UK.) Give people as many opportunities to learn about the LBGTQIA+ spectrum as you possibly can, that way baby queers don’t grow up feeling broken for not being ‘normal’ and allies know how to be supporting and accepting.

Beatrice: I was never out when I was playing football. This is mostly because I didn’t have a language for being asexual until much more recently. I was definitely uncomfortable being in an environment where teammates were talking about their partners and hook ups. I constantly feared being asked about my relationship status, because I feared ridicule. I would rehearse lines to respond with. “Oh, not looking for anything at the moment” or “Not interested in anything casual”. If I were to play football now, I would feel more comfortable sharing my asexual identity with people, although still do fade into the sidelines when groups are talking about their partners/love interests. It isn’t a conversation I have any connection with, so I leave them to it. 

Dia: For a sexually repressed society, everyone certainly does care a whole lot about who and how you have sex with someone. But again, this does make it REALLY easy to pass as allo. Is that a good thing? No, probably not, but it’s how I survived high school and college.

Beatrice: I absolutely struggle with taking up space in the queer community. I can move through society unquestioned to an extent- I just look like a person not in a relationship and to people who knew me long term, maybe that was a weird concept before I came out to them. But that invisibility you refer to is really the issue. I didn’t know there was an actual name for what I was experiencing. I matured into an adult looking around at everyone else, wondering when that would happen for me. If I had had a language for my experiences sooner, maybe I could feel more confident and at peace with my asexuality.

Dia: When I came out as ace, I learned very quickly who understood what asexuality was and who didn’t. And, to be perfectly honest, MOST people I came out to had absolutely no idea what it was. That was definitely a test, because not only am I feeling super vulnerable just by coming out but I also have to explain what asexuality is and why I identify as ace, and then answer all of their questions which basically is just defending who I am and what I feel. Being gay or lesbian or transgender is almost easier to understand, because it’s choosing one thing over another. “I don’t love them/hetero, I love them/homo.” “I am not this gender identity, I am that one.” Asexuality (and bisexuality and pansexuality and all the other ones I don’t even know because I still need to learn about them) is constantly being erased from the narrative because it is about the lack of something. So by coming out as ace, you have to defend it’s very existence.

Dia: As every LGBTQIA+ person can tell you, you don’t come out once. You have to keep coming out because our society is still stupidly heteronormative. Having a good support group definitely helps – I am supremely lucky that my family and a couple of close friends help to ‘spread the word’ when I’m either not there physically or too tired mentally. But every time I do come out, I remind myself that this is one more person who has the potential to help and support some other baby ace in a way that I wasn’t supported. If I could help just one kid not feel broken and isolated, then that’s good enough for me. 

Beatrice: My advice to universities and adult football teams is to consider the social spaces you create for team bonding. I’m absolutely not suggesting stopping going out clubbing, but I think it’s important to create a more varied social activity calendar. This is more inclusive of people who don’t drink or don’t want to go out and also gives the whole team an opportunity to socialise in a different way which could help strengthen your team atmosphere. Some people want to 

Dia: As weird as it sounds, being ace is kind of like being offside. Everyone knows that offsides is a thing that exists in football, but no one really fully understands it, especially during a game. Oh, you can look up the rules all you want, but half the time you will be incredibly confused because “how was that offsides” and then the other half of the time you will be super frustrated because “HOW WASN’T THAT OFFSIDES”. Or vice versa. No one actually fully comprehends how it works, because it’s weird and confusing and very situational, but football wouldn’t be the game we love without it. And that’s asexuality in a nutshell.

Dia: The asexual community is so incredibly amazing. I mean, come on. We’ve got cake, garlic bread, AND F***ING DRAGONS. Sign me the fuck up.

Beatrice: Can’t go too far wrong with that!

Dia (left) and Beatrice (right)


Cam Wood: My First Year as the Football vs Homophobia Youth Panel Chair

In 2020 I took over as the chair of the Football vs Homophobia youth panel and this was a unique experience because the majority of my first term has had to be conducted on a virtual platform.

My biggest highlight of the last year was interviewing Harry Baker a Cerebral Palsy England international footballer.

The reason why it’s is my biggest highlight is because we were able to have an in-depth conversation on a virtual platform about issues that affect young people with disabilities on a daily basis.

This interview reminded me that I am not the only young person who faces these types of challenges regularly.

I wish that I had had the opportunity to have interviewed a panel of disabled footballers as part of the month of action.

I have absolutely loved supporting the youth panel members to become the best young leaders that they possibly can.

At every youth panel meeting since I took over as chair the members l have delighted me with what they have been able to achieve. 

When I took over as the chair of the panel I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Youth Panel and the role because I have never chaired a national panel before.

I have been supported by the team who lead the Youth Panel to understand my role and what is expected of me.

My favourite duty as chair of the Youth Panel is delivering and planning our meetings because it allows me to be creative.

I have been able to develop my leadership skills by chairing this incredible Youth Panel as I believe that I am becoming the best leader I possibly can.

I am so excited to see what the youth panel achieves over the coming months as we continue our incredible work as a group.

I have absolutely loved planning the youth panel meetings so that the members get the most out of our monthly catch ups.

As I was writing this piece I started to consider advice I would offer a young person who might be reading it and I came up with the following:

Always aspire to be yourself and seek help if you require it because I have suffered in silence and it is not a very nice feeling.

There are a number of organizations out their who will be able to offer you support with what you are struggling with.

If you are still in education you can speak to a member of staff at your school, college or university as they will be able to help you with any of the issues that you are experiencing.

If they are not able to help you directly with these things then they will know somebody or something that will be able to help you.

To end this blog I would simply like to say a massive thank you to the Football vs Homophobia Youth Panel for all the incredible work that they have produced during the last year.

It has been an honour to be your chair during these very difficult times and I am looking forward to seeing what the next year has in store for us.

Written by FvH Youth Panel Chair, Cameron Wood.

Cam Wood: “A Villa fan using wheels to be on a Level Playing Field.”

I support Aston Villa and I am in a wheelchair as I have cerebral palsy and hydrocephulas, however this doesn’t stop me from enjoying football just like my peers.

I have supported the club since 2010 when I developed a love for the beautiful game and began searching for a club to support.

I have attended loads of matches following Villa both at home and down to Wembley for a couple of magical cup final days.

Each time I visit Villa Park with my best friend, we always have an awesome day out and are treated well by all Villa staff that we come into contact with.

We always travel to matches from our hometown of Hereford by train and as we approach Witton station we are always supported by stewards and station staff to exit safely.

Once we have fought our way through the crowds from the station to the ground we find ourselves being treated in the same way as an able-bodied fan.

Once we have made our way through the various refreshment stands at the ground and found our allocated seats for the match the atmosphere is simply electric.

When the Villa stars enter the field of play my view is obscured as the fans rise to welcome the players.

My best friend will usually video the players entering the field so that I can watch them do this at a later time.

As Villa head towards the goal mouth and again the fans rise to watch this unfold my view is again obscured and I have to watch the action on the big screens.

As half time comes and I want some food I struggle to reach the refreshment stands due to the volume of people in one area meaning my best friend makes this trip us.

As the match finishes the stewards at the ground stop fans from exiting the stadium to allow the wheelchair supporters the opportunity to exit the ground safely.

After leaving the stadium we head over to the Villa store to see what delights we can get however this isn’t without its problems as the store is not very wheelchair friendly. If I choose to make a purchase prior to heading home after a long day my best friend has to join the long queue of villa fans wanting to make a purchase.

Once we have left the villa store we have to then re-join the fight back to the station to head home. As we arrive back at Witton train station and join the long queue of fans waiting to board trains home we are again supported by stewards and staff to board a train.

I can never the fault the level of support we are given to board a train as the staff at the station always stop fans from boarding until we are safely on board.

I believe that football clubs do all that they can to support their disabled fans to enjoy the whole match day experience no matter what. It is vital that clubs from all levels of the game do all that they can do to make the experience of attending a football match enjoyable for their disabled fan community.

If I was to offer any advice to a football club about making their match day experience accessible for all then it would be this:

Engage with your disabled supporters fan group to find out what their members want so that you can ensure that the experience is an incredible one for this group of people.

Written by Cameron Wood, FvH Youth Panel Chair

FvH Youth Panel- Month of Action Introduction

Written by Danyal Khan- Events Officer at FvH Youth Panel

We at the FvH Youth Panel are delighted to announce that we will be conducting the annual Month of Action, starting from Monday February 1st.

#FvH2021 will be a little different compared to the other years due to Covid-19.

Nevertheless, we have a number of interesting workshops and practical events that we have planned, that are accessible to everyone via zoom.

“I encourage young people to sign up, to be inspired by messages from people their own ages.”

FvH Youth Panel Co-Coordinator Beatrice Thirkettle has had this to say on the upcoming month of action.

She said: “I’m excited about the range of different events and activities that have been organised by the Youth Panel for this year’s Month of Action.

“Core to our work as a Youth Panel is education, events and communication.

“People who sign up to our events will hear from a diverse range of voices, sharing personal experiences and thoughts on how to develop the game for the better.

“I encourage young people to sign up, to be inspired by messages from people their own ages. I also encourage adults to sign up and listen to the important voices of young people.”

Plan of Action (Events)  

Active sessions:

  1. Football Skills at Home- Sunday 7th February: 2-3pm 

This fun and interactive session will be led by Ethan, who is a Level One Qualified football coach. Skills such as controlling the ball, passing the ball and the art of using both feet to control the ball will be taught by Ethan.

This is the perfect event for some mild exercise, especially during lockdown where it is so difficult to do much exercise outdoors due to the current lockdown situation.

All you will need is some space indoors or outdoors, a ball and some makeshift cones (dig out some socks!).

After the event, Ethan will be hosting a Q and A session, giving you the opportunity to ask questions in order to help improve your skill set.

More information and registration here

  • Soccercise at Home- Monday 8th February: 7-8pm

Join PE teacher and football coach Ellen Martin for a fun session combining football skills with a variety of fitness exercises, all from the comfort of your home.

You just need a football and some trainers, and you are all good to go.

Ellen is currently a PE teacher in a primary school, and also coaches the U14s girls at Aston Villa Football Club. 

Just like the football skills session with Ethan, this is the perfect event for some mild exercise which is all essential during this lockdown period where it’s hard to get out and do much exercise.

Exercise helps with maintaining good mental health, so we would recommend as many people as possible attend the active sessions.

More information and registration here

Discussion based sessions:

  1. Disabled Youth Footballers Panel- Saturday 13th February: 11am-12pm

This workshop will give voices to some young disabled footballers from different levels of the game.

The panel will share their experiences of football, and also discuss the challenges they face and the future development of disability football.

More information and registration here

  • Queer Youth Trailblazers in Football- Monday 15th February: 7-8pm

    FvH Youth Panel will be speaking to leaders in different roles across the game to hear their experiences as LGBT+ leaders, growing up in football as LGBT and how football can grow to better support young LGBT+ people.

The likes of Sousa e Sa (Scottish FA Young Ambassador), Angelica Nadabba (Crystal Palace NCS Manager and LGBT+ inclusion leader) will be featuring in this panel discussion. More special guests will be confirmed soon.

More information and registration here

  • Football Journalism Panel- Friday 19th February: 6:30-8pm

Join a group of experienced journalists who will be discussing their careers in football journalism, the current state of football journalism and what changes are needed to see more inclusive sensitive journalism for LGBT+ stories.

This panel will consist of; the Sky Sports LGBT+ editor and writer Jon Holmes, experienced sports journalist and founder of BCOMS (Black Collective Of Media in Sports) Leon Mann, trans sports journalist Emma Smith (Goal) and non-binary journalist and footballer JP Casey.

More information and registration here

Free Education sessions: 

  1. LGBT+ 101 education for young people

The Youth Panel are also offering LGBT+ education. The educational session is for young people and is ideal for learning more about LGBT+ identities and being an ally!

We encourage as many young people to get involved, especially those who are in leadership positions.

Friday 12th February, 4-6pm More information and registration here

Friday 26th February, 4-6pm More information and registration here

Private sessions: 

  1. A Discussion on Diverse and Inclusive Sports Reporting- Tuesday 3rd February 

This is a private event for Southampton Solent University Sports Journalism students, which will be offered to all years of study.

FvH Youth’s Sam Clarke alongside members of the education team, plus founder of Sports Media LGBT+ Jon Holmes, are collaborating together to deliver this workshop on sports reporting.

The education team will deliver some LGBT+ training, with Holmes following on to share with students how to share diverse stories and report on LGBT+ issues.

  • Football manager stream- Sunday 28th February

To round off a rather busy month of action for the Youth Panel, we will be organising a Football Manager stream. This relaxed football stream will give football fans the chance to interact and chat.

For any more questions about these upcoming events in our designated month of action, please contact us here at the Youth Panel on our email: 

Note for readers: 

All sessions are free to enjoy and open to all, with the exception of the private session which is taking place with the Southampton Solent University students.

Ryan Harwood: “I loved playing football, but the football world didn’t seem to love me back.”

When I was 13 I joined my first decent side as an outfield player. It was a change going from a team that had a kickabout for training to one where things were taken more seriously. The focus was very much on fitness, particularly in our warm-ups. We’d run around the pitch with different exercises to do at certain points around the pitch.

To begin with they were simple ones like press and sit-ups, but as the season went on our manager started to teach us new ones. Glute bridges are a great exercise for hip, core, glute, and back strength. I remember when our manager first got us to do them, he called them hip thrusts. Of course, they were great for our football strength, our manager had said, but where hip thrusts really help is in the bedroom – with your girlfriend. The discomfort I felt has stuck with me every time I do a glute bridge. For my sins and hip injuries, I have to do them every day.

In big groups I tend to stick to the outer-edges until I feel more comfortable. I loved playing at this side, but I never truly felt integrated. I could perform on the pitch, but couldn’t off it. After my first season, sex became the main topic of conversation outside of football. Before, during, and after every session.

I couldn’t contribute to any of these conversations – I didn’t know how. Even at 14 half the team seemed to have their own story and the other half were on the verge of having their own story. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that not everyone would have been telling the truth, but as a teenager with no experience I had no reason to doubt them.

It made me feel so out of place, that there was this major component of our football world that I had no connection too. I knew that not having sex in my early teens wasn’t a big deal, but it sure felt that way when I was at football. Especially because of the homophobia that surrounded a lack of sex. If someone admitted to not having had sex or having a girlfriend, they would be the butt of homophobic jokes. Even not being interested in a specific girl who was deemed to be attractive meant you were gay.

They were the only two options: gay or straight. It’s no wonder that people would exaggerate their own stories when being seen as gay in any way meant you’d be ribbed and abused about it. I knew there wasn’t anything wrong with being gay, but it did seem like there was something wrong with not being straight in football.

Eventually I left that side to play at a higher level. Our training sessions were more serious. We were expected to do fitness in our own time, training was for tactics. For me, this was great. Not only was I improving, but I didn’t feel the need to try and perform off the pitch.

That was until my first home game. I’d never been at a side where we used changing rooms. It was a bit of a culture shock, but I could deal with it after I got comfortable in the corner seat. Before the game was generally okay, we’d get changed from our tracksuits to warm-up, then come back in to have our team-talk.

There wasn’t much socialisation, at least on my part – I would get anxious before games, so my focus was entirely on football. In all honesty, I probably wasn’t capable of any much socialisation. But after the game there was a different set of expectations.

Following the post-match rant from the managers, the football side of the day was over. The team were left to our own devices. And football was no longer on the agenda. Before the managers even left the room, the team were talking about girls. Even being just one year older, the talk was all the more graphic. And all the more constant.

The older we got, the more left behind I felt. I’d never had any romantic relationships and was even further away from having sex. I thought something was wrong with me because I hadn’t had sex and hadn’t really wanted to. Even though I didn’t like this sort of talk, I could cope with it – sink into my corner of the changing room and not have to get involved.

What made my skin crawl was the way some of the team talked about some of the girls. It was as if they were just objects. I remember one of my teammates trying to stick up for his girlfriend when the others were talking about her, but his defence and discomfort only spurred them on to push their ‘jokes’ further and be more extreme.

I felt so guilty, sitting with a bunch of guys and not standing up against their misogyny. I’ve heard what goes on in locker rooms and ‘locker room talk’ is not just harmless.

My first stint at university was at a place in the middle of nowhere, so the uni team I joined was only playing in a local league instead of travelling a few hours for even the closest uni opposition. With the team playing in an adult league and the players ranging from me as the youngest 18-year-old up to our captain who was 24 and doing his PhD. It all felt a lot more mature.

People still spoke about sex, but it was a lot less constant. And when people did talk about it I felt a lot more comfortable. At the time I had a girlfriend and I think people assumed that meant we were sexually active. Even though we weren’t, and our relationship was brief, not being single for while was enough of an answer to satisfy any questions before they were asked.

Though the bravado was still there. The constant one-upmanship about teenage sexual exploits had been replaced by alcohol, and who could drink the most. Every social we had was about drinking… To excess. We even had to have a drink after every game to avoid a forfeit. It was a change that suited me and allowed me to feel integrated into a team.

It naturally took a lot to get me drunk and the social anxiety of teenage parties meant I had more than enough practice when it came to binge drinking. But I still felt an element of discomfort. There was still an oppressive culture that meant you couldn’t opt out, just swapping sex and misogyny for the arguably more dangerous alcohol. Even if you didn’t want to drink, you had to.

I know that some of the team struggled with having to drink so often and having no opportunity to say no. Even though it helped me socially, it still wasn’t good for me. All it did was mask my struggles with social interactions, which made alcohol seem a good way of helping me in other social situations – in no way addressing the actual social issues I was struggling with.

I’m now 21, identify as asexual and will have been sober for a year on November 26th. When I look back, I realise just how toxic many of my footballing environments were.

It’s not that talking about sex is a bad thing. In fact, I think we need to talk about sex and sexuality a lot more – if we did, I might have heard the term asexual before I turned 19. The problem arises when talk of sex is coupled with heteronormativity, toxic masculinity, and misogyny.

It creates such a hostile environment for anyone who doesn’t fit in. Which, in turn, creates a cycle that keeps pushing out anyone who doesn’t conform and reaffirming to those who do that some of these toxic behaviours are okay – making it an even less inviting environment for those who don’t accept how it is.

Having such intense and combative heteronormativity made it all but impossible to accept that we might want to explore our sexuality, especially at such a confusing age. It also reinforced the idea that sex was essential which definitely prevented me from realising my sexuality sooner.

For so long people had been talking about sex that when I did find the term asexual it took me a while to accept that it could apply to me. Football was one of the most important parts of my life growing up but the culture that surrounded it made it all but impossible to find out anything about myself that didn’t conform to their norms.

I loved playing football, but the football world didn’t seem to love me back.

Written by Ryan Harwood, FvH Youth Panel Educations Officer

Why is there such disdain for an assumed desire for diversity?

News broke yesterday evening that long term pundits on Sky Sports’ iconic show Soccer Saturday were sacked.

Matt Le Tissier, Charlie Nicholas & Phil Thompson will not be resuming their roles on the weekly show for the upcoming season.

Normally, I can see the kind of outrage this news provoked from a mile off. For example as soon as I saw the Bristol City goalkeeper kits, I knew if I looked in the replies or comments, it would probably cause my blood to boil.

However, I genuinely didn’t see this one coming, I had a look at the replies of the tweet expecting people to simply be a bit upset that the cast they had grown accustom to was being split up. Instead I saw a lot of the following:

“I bet it will be a gay bloke, a black person and a bird who replace them”

“All just to satisfy the PC brigade”

“Incoming three black people forced into those roles”

Black Lives Matter this, LGBT that, derogatory words for women everywhere. It is really upsetting to me that the first reaction to three straight white men losing their jobs, is to take it out on traditionally under represented communities in sports media.

In particular, a few specific up and coming pundits from the BAME community were targeted, with the suggestion that they were ‘unworthy’ to fill the roles. Ian Wright addressed this on his own Twitter page and said it much better than I ever could, so I strongly advise you to go watch his video:

As a side note, while searching to find that video and link to you, I discovered that “Ian Wright is a racist” autocompleted when searching for him on Twitter, I clicked on that thinking there is no way people are actually accusing Ian Wright of being racist… oh wait, yes they very much are.

Half the problem, as Ian Wright has said, at this stage it is simply assumed that the desire for diversity is the reason these pundits have been let go and that certain pundits will ‘undeservedly’ gain opportunity from it. For all we know, they could still just fill those seats with another 3 white retired male footballers.

With any long running TV show, the goal is to refresh things BEFORE people get bored of the previous cast or format, and that is exactly what Sky are doing. They are evolving their show before it gets stale.

If the people they bring in to refresh the show also happen to result in a little more variety on our TV screens every Saturday, why would this be such a bad thing?

I studied Sports Journalism at University, and you only have to look at the demographics of my course to see how sports media could perhaps use a little more diversity.

As far as I can remember only 3 people on my course were part of BAME communities, only 1 who is openly LGBTQI+ (that 1 being me) and 1 woman. Do you think that perhaps could be due to the fact when a young person from any one of these communities switches onto the UK’s number 1 sports broadcasters’ most iconic show of a Saturday afternoon, they only see straight white men?

I also know that some people who represent those communities at my University with a particular interest in sports decided to do either Multimedia Journalism, or general Journalism over doing the Sports Journalism course.

As you may have guessed, this is something I am extremely passionate about and I’m already in the early planning process of projects that are directly relate to everything I discussed in this blog.

The last 24 hours have only spurred me on more with these projects, as it has confirmed what I already knew, that change is needed in my industry.

Written by Sam Clarke, FvH Youth Panel Communications Officer

Beatrice Thirkettle: “If we want equality in the game, we need to ensure we are attracting participation from diverse women.”

My memories of playing football as a 13 year old, consist of many long car journeys. I played in the Bedfordshire and Buckingham league (who knows if that was the actual league name, but we certainly drove between those counties enough!) and away matches frequently took an hour to drive to. I probably played on most council and school pitches around Luton and Dunstable in my playing career. Training on a 3G pitch felt like a luxury, especially compared to Saturdays turning up at an uneven grass pitch. 

I contrast this to the current status of the girls’ game in England. I worked for over 2 years as a Football Development Officer for a County Football Association, and had the joy of working with club volunteers who were dedicated to providing a positive playing experience for girls.

I’ll interject here quickly to say that when I was playing, there was no doubt of the commitment of coaches and secretaries to us having the opportunity to play. However girls football is in a far better place now because of the increased opportunities to get involved at a variety of levels.

Girls now have access to more qualified coaches, better facilities, matches which are closer to home (no more 2 hour round trips!), integration within their club with boys teams (it’s great that they are no longer an afterthought).

Club officials were coming to me to share their plans of launching girls teams and what support they would need. I launched a girls club network to share best practice, challenges and identify ways I can best support increased development of girls football. It has been and continues to be an exciting time to be involved with the growth of girls football. There are different initiatives to get girls playing in teams or just recreationally, in an environment that they find safe, fun and inclusive. 

It feels relevant to bring up a conversation I replay in my mind over and over. I was chatting to an age group coordinator at one of our largest clubs. I asked about the development of girls football at the club and what the 5 year plan looked like. He responded that many of their earliest teams are mixed. Ever since the club had introduced girls football and ran sessions at the local schools, girls had fully engaged. Coaches and teachers started to see all genders playing football together in the school playground at lunch and break times.

He said that the boys respected girls as being equal to them when playing and that the girls felt confident about playing with boys. It got me thinking. What will football look like in 10 years time, when we have a generation of boys and girls who started playing at the same age, with access to quality coaching, the best facilities and appropriate playing opportunities. Will there be such a gap in ability between men and women? Will we need to have separate boys and girls teams at the youth levels? 

I’m not proposing getting rid of dedicated girls’ activity. For many girls at the moment, the opportunity to play in a girls only environment is what draws them in and gets them involved in the game. But I would argue that a big part of this is because girls aren’t given so many opportunities to play football as young as boys are.

There are other options that girls might be channeled into. I know I was. So girls might feel apprehensive about joining in with boys who have been playing for many more years than them.

We all feel unconfident about entering an environment where other people have much more experience than we do- we don’t want to risk looking silly at getting things wrong for fear of people laughing at us. But when I am suggesting, is that if girls have opportunities to be playing at the same age as the boys, can we give them more confidence to be able to take on anyone, regardless of gender? Ability, then, will be the critical factor, which can help a player grow. Equality of opportunity at the youngest age is absolutely key to shaping a better future of the game for girls football.

To go back to my playing days, I vividly remember standing on the centre circle, arms linked with my team-mates as we paused before the game for a minute’s silence. It was early, foggy, raining and freezing cold. I remember wondering why I was there. What was it that still drew me to playing football every week, especially as most weeks I got a 5 minute run out at the end. It was the beginning of the end of my participation in playing football.

The manager had his eye on results and I wasn’t really a very good player. Perhaps if I had more confidence on the ball and didn’t panic so much, I might have been ok! I often wonder what kind of a player I would have been, if I played youth football today. But at the time, I knew playing wasn’t how I wanted to be involved in football going forwards. So I started volunteering and then realised there was a whole world of County Football Associations and football development! So that was my next aim.

My place of work had a fairly equal number of male and female employees (although we were all cis individuals) and there was never any question that female football was as important as men’s football. But in other areas of the organisation it was hard to see people who looked like me.

This wasn’t just a problem at my place of work- it is replicated across all County Football Associations, as well as at the FA. Boards and Councils were full of men, of a certain age. When I realised it was possible to have a career in football, I wondered if it would be possible for me. I didn’t see many women in football and assumed that I’d need a huge amount of football knowledge and experience to get a job. 

During my time working as a Football Development Officer, I went to many meetings and conferences where I saw women at all levels within the game. It was positive to see. However the key decision makers right at the top still seem to have a majority of men. In particular at Board level. I really think that we need to be proactively recruiting more women to those top strategic levels who have a voice in the decision making of football’s governing bodies. 

We also need to speak about intersectionality and the lack of diversity within women in the game. Those same conferences I went to, featured many white, cis, able bodied women. I was one of them! I guess I can add queer to my identity list, but I imagine there a quite a few queer women working in football.

If we want equality in the game, we need to ensure we are attracting participation- be that playing, coaching, refereeing, developing, disciplining, decision making etc- from diverse women. That includes diversity of religion and faith, ethnicity, age, disability, socio-economic background, sex characteristics and women who have kids, as well as those who do not.

If we lack an ability to include women who aren’t just white, cis, able bodied women, then we aren’t providing an environment where everyone can participate and we certainly aren’t being inclusive. So football has a lot of work to do to attract a more diverse community of female participants. 

I feel this leads me on to my next point, and something that has been a source of increased frustration for me, with the current climate of transphobia that has gripped this country. I participated in a work football match which was mixed.

We were all adults and all varying abilities. I made a bad tackle and a male colleague fell over as a result. He is a heck of a lot bigger than me and the only reason he fell is because I made a reckless challenge. Because I don’t have good technique. I had many tussles with people during that game and was never hurt. Were some men going easy on me? Absolutely. That is because they had more skill than me, so obviously took pity on me!

The current dialogue raging on social media currently that trans women pose a risk to women is ridiculous. It disappoints me that people think that. It creates gendered stereotypes about height and build, which disregards the natural variance between each of us. I’m taller than some people and weaker than some people. Compared to others, I’m shorter and stronger. We embrace these differences in sports. We wouldn’t want a whole team full of tall women. The variances allow people to excel in different ways and be suited to different roles. 

If we start to police bodies allowed in sport, that impacts us all. Sport then becomes exclusive and that is not one of my values. We cannot have equality if certain bodies are being denied access, especially if that discrimination is being dressed up as “safety concerns”.

I go back to my earlier point- we should be providing a sporting environment which supports people of similar ability playing together. We should also be providing people with good coaching to develop technical skills. If I had received that coaching, then I wouldn’t be at risk of dangerously tackling someone.

This, for me, is the only reason for discussing safety concerns. No one should be put at risk from another person on the pitch because they have not been properly coached and are out of control. But in terms of the variances that occur between us all as women? Great! Let’s embrace those and engage a diversity of women playing on the field- ensuring that under-represented women are included and celebrated.

Written by Beatrice Thirkettle, FvH Youth Panel Coordinator

Samantha Walker: “Proud of myself – I posted an update on my social media… and it really kicked off…”

*Trigger Warning: The following blog contains quotes of transphobia, and references to sexual assault*

Guest Blog written by Samantha Walker, formerly of Soho FC & Bristol Panthers. Twitter: @No7Sammy. Instagram: No7Sammy. Facebook: Samantha Marilyn Walker.

When I was contacted to do this guest blog I was humbled – but also slightly apprehensive. In this piece, I am tasked with both shining a light on the horrific tactics used by trans-exclusionary feminists and anti-trans groups, while also educating on the best way to deal with it, giving hope that things are improving and encourage those who feel alienated within sport because of their gender identity or sexuality. I hope I can achieve this – It is, to be honest, quite the balancing act!

Football was my first love. I have been playing for 25 years on and off, but my interest in it and desire to play never waned – even if for long periods of time I didn’t feel like there was a place for me within the sport. When I first started playing at 5 years old, it was the only thing that consumed my attention and made me forget my problems – and it still serves the same purpose to me now.

Early in my transition, looking very much like a male, I didn’t feel that womens sports would accept me, and I was right. I didn’t meet the FA’s inclusion policy (link here: I tried to join a team, who let me train with them but was made to feel like I shouldn’t be there. I felt dejected. I gave up.

Then, a year later, I heard about a league that was totally sexuality and gender inclusive. If you want to find an LGBT+ friendly club – make use of PrideSports awesome club finder:

I investigated, and chose to play within the LGBT+ inclusive league that runs here in the UK, it seemed like it was the only place that would accept me. I joined Soho, and later, Bristol and in both places found a space to enjoy the game I loved without prejudice. It wasn’t perfect (I was still the only trans woman playing in matches and got some confused looks) – but my identity was respected and it was the best thing on offer to me at the time.

Fast forward 2 years and in July ’20 I was invited to attend a trial at a high level womens football team. I felt so nervous beforehand. What if people objected or refused to play if I was there?

There were a number of trialists there of varying ages and abilities. The team, at this point, didn’t know I was transgender – but the ladies on the pitch, chairman, manager and first team coach were impressed enough to ask me to sign for the upcoming season. Only 1 other trialist made it through. I was ecstatic, for the first time in my life I was playing football as my authentic self without fear of repercussions.

Proud of myself – I posted an update on my social media… and it really kicked off…

“Isn’t it cheating if you are a man”…

“Too much of a p***y to play against men so you have to dominate women?”…

“Why can’t you just start a trans only league, and stop ruining womens sport”…

“I bet you only want access to the womens spaces so you can rape/abuse ‘real women’ “…

These are, quite frankly, some of the tamer responses I received about being a trans woman in competitive sport, and all I had done was attend a trial! All of these were posted by faceless social media accounts who, when questioned why they wouldn’t attach their face to their beliefs – suggested they would be discriminated against… the irony!

So lets address these objections…

Isn’t it cheating if you are a man”…

YES! If I was a man playing in a womens league, it would most definitely be cheating… but I am not a man… I may have been born with male genitalia – but that doesn’t define my identity as I write this piece. I am a woman, who has transitioned.

I live, walk, talk, act and am perceived as female; the effects of my ‘first puberty’ have been reversed and I do not possess a physical advantage over my team-mates. The inclusion policy is clear – and is rightly judged on a case by case basis. If a trans woman who has met the FA’s inclusion policy is on the pitch with other women – there are exactly ZERO men in that game.

“Too much of a p***y to play against men so you have to dominate women?”…

Well… no! I played in male dominated leagues up until the trial. I was always the ‘odd one out’ in those leagues, oftentimes the only woman on the pitch and at a significant performance disadvantage. I didn’t even consider womens football until womens football considered me!

I am not the fastest, strongest, biggest or heaviest or best player there. The team plays in the 3rd tier of English football, one league below the full professional leagues. Does that sound like dominating to you?!

There is also the ‘safety’ argument. The idea that trans women are more robust and more likely to hurt cis women based on very small deviations in bone and tissue density. However, lets just set aside biology for a moment, and focus on physics. A 5ft woman, weighing 60kg, collides with a 5 ft 10 woman weighing 85kg. Who is more likely to be on the receiving end of the worst of the impact? The smaller one, right? So why are people not advocating for weight classes withing womens football? Because it would be wrong, and exclusionary! The best players in the world are not the biggest, fastest or strongest – they are the ones with great technique.

“Why can’t you just start a trans only league, and stop ruining womens sport”…

This is constantly thrown in as a ‘solution’ – and it is just not feasible. I am quite embedded in the issue of trans women in sport – particularly football – and can honestly say I know of maybe 9 players who openly identify as transgender and who play in womens leagues, at various levels. We make up a tiny percentage of the population: I highly doubt we could get 2 teams together for a match – let alone have a trans-specific league!

Even if we could hypotherically do so, there would be even higher disparity between players. There is a big difference in physicality between someone who is, for instance, not taking hormones – and someone who has transitioned and been on hormones for 5+ years!

“I bet you only want access to the womens spaces so you can rape/abuse ‘real women’ “…

This one is probably the one that hurts the most, but it’s one that really gets down to the basis, and bias, of their argument. For a start – Feminism isn’t misandry. It is standing up for the rights and equal opportunities of all women; and to direct this man-hating attitude towards trans women is just mis-directed misandry. The trans-exclusionary feminists who suggest that every trans woman is just a predatory man looking for an opportunity to invade womens spaces aren’t feminists, and do feminism, women, and human-kind a disservice.

Predatory and abusive men pose a very real risk and I feel truly sorry for whatever these people have gone through for them to feel that this means anyone with male genitalia has the same intentions. The type of man the exclusionary feminists fear, is the same type of man I fear. I am in danger from them too. I have been the victim of, what I fear, were the same horrific experiences.

But this is the real problem; the argument over trans people in sport is often reduced to a comparison between cis men, and cis women. Which is like trying to compare an apple and a carrot to ascertain whether or not a tomato is a fruit; and we all know that tomato’s are fruits! An odd metaphor – but hopefully you follow its meaning!

My club (which will remain nameless until I make my official debut to avoid affecting pre-season preparations) and my team-mates have been fantastic. I have played in 2 pre-season friendlies, scoring in one and hope to make my full debut soon, which I believe will make me the first openly trans woman to play at that level. Each time I step onto the pitch with other women I feel an intense euphoria. I am where I am supposed to be.

There are 2 options with how we deal with the way trans people are targeted. We can either block and avoid the conversations and rhetoric being pushed or we confront it with robust, rational and logical arguments. I personally choose the latter because I feel I have a responsibility to prove them wrong and to educate the middle ground.

However, it should not fall solely on trans people to justify their existence and participation in sport. It should fall on the shoulders of a sports governing body to enforce and educate, on team-mates and clubs to promote inclusion, and also on those who have no direct benefit from the outcome.

Allies need to stand with us, ideally in front of us – but definitely not just quietly behind us. 

If you would like to learn more about my journey – please check out

Want to provide better trans inclusion at your club? See our Football v Transphobia campaign for more information:

Homophobic Chanting to be Outlawed: The first baby step of millions

A government report released last week detailed plans to make homophobic abuse at football matches an illegal offence.

Released by the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS); the report stated that amendments will be made to the Football Offences Act 1991 to include homophobic chanting.

While a welcome step, you only have to look at the reaction of those outside of football to see how much of a baby step this is, with many who were unaware of the problems within football only displaying shock that homophobic chanting at football wasn’t already illegal.

It is no secret that currently no male players in English football are openly gay, with only one coming out while still playing in England in the history of the game in this country, and that was Justin Fashanu 30 years ago.

A small number of players have come out after retirement, and an organisation set up by Fashanu’s niece Amal (The Justin Fashanu Foundation) has stated a number of Premier League footballers are seeking counselling as they struggle with their own sexuality.

Former Premier League striker Marvin Sordell spoke as an ally earlier this year about homophobia within the industry when I interviewed him back in April.

Sordell, who retired from football at the age of 28 due to mental health struggles, talked about football’s handling of anything that deemed ‘different’.

While he agreed things need to change in the changing rooms too, he believes it is outside the changing rooms where the real issues would start for an openly gay footballer.

“I think it would be more accepting in that [the changing room] environment than out in public, and in the public domain to be honest,” Sordell expressed.

“I’d guess the reason a player wouldn’t come out as gay at the moment is probably more so because of the press, the media, the fans and social media. To put yourself out there as different is very difficult, particularly as a football player in this country.”

The 29-year-old also stated how he understands why many have and will continue to wait until after they are retired to come out, as they will be out of the spotlight a little bit and won’t have to play in packed stadiums every week.

“The fans will use that to get at that player, like racism is bad enough, and homophobia is a lot more accepted than racism.

“I have seen, heard and been on the receiving end of racism. That is something that is looked at as a horrible thing and people still do it, where as people accept homophobia more. Which is wrong, it is still discrimination, but if it is accepted more then it will happen more.”

It is that more accepting attitude towards homophobia that Marvin Sordell mentions which will provide the biggest struggle when attempting to police homophobia in the stands.

It is almost part of the culture that if a player goes down easy you call them a ‘poof’ or a ‘fairy’, or if a player has longer hair they look ‘gay’ or ‘queer’.

A lot of the homophobic chanting at grounds often comes under the ‘casual homophobia’ bracket which often gets played off as ‘just banter’.

A prime example of this can be found by just listening to away fans at Brighton games, which I’ve been in amongst on my away trips following my team, and this is Charlton who are one of the more progressive clubs in English football.

The feeling of sitting amongst your own fans who are chanting this causal homophobia is a very hard thing to come to terms with, especially as a still in the closet 14/15/16-year-old as I would have been at the time, which was the time period I slowly started realising my sexuality.

It basically confirmed what I had already decided that I would never come out in the footballing world, even now I am out and very confident in my own sexuality, away games can still be an intimidating prospect as much as I do love them for the most part.

That is coming from me, a bisexual cis male in a heterosexual relationship who can mostly blend into the crowd, as long as I keep a hat on to hide my hair. Which I have done ever since me taking my hat off at an away game once prompted a conversation behind me along the lines of when ‘fans started having queer haircuts like the players’.

I can only imagine how it would feel for someone who doesn’t have the same ability to blend in like I can, and even people who are a whole lot less secure in themselves than I have become.

This all begs the question of, how will it be policed when these laws are introduced? The racism protocol puts the onus on players getting the abuse to make the decisions, and even that is a broken system as it requires players to take the abuse more than once.

How does it work when it isn’t players getting abused? How does it work when it isn’t just a small minority, but a larger percentage of the crowd because it is ‘just banter’?

These, among others, are all questions that need to be answered. As this step is only the first baby steps of millions before football can truly be ‘everyone’s game’.

Written by Sam Clarke, FvH Youth Panel Communications Officer

FvH Youth – Football v Transphobia Week of Action 2021 (24th-31st March)

The Football v Transphobia Week of Action will be taking place from the 24th– 31st March 2021, ending on Transgender Day of Visibility.

This is the third season we are taking specific action on transphobia in the game. We will be active across social media, using our presence to amplify the voices of trans and non binary people in all aspects of football.

The Youth Panel will be supporting the Week of Action with some special youth events, which will run alongside the main Football v Transphobia campaign.

How does this Week of Action differ from last year’s?

FvT Campaign Lead, Natalie Washington (she/they) explained how this year’s Week of Action differs to last year’s.

“Last year we’d just gone into a national lockdown, so the physical events we had planned had to be replaced at short notice!

“This year, we want to get people thinking about what it means to be a good ally for trans people in the game – trans people, trans women in particular, are constantly demonised in the media for being involved in sport. 

“We want to share our experiences that the vast majority of people are really supportive of trans inclusion in sport, and so highlighting great allies is a fantastic way of showing that it’s safe to get involved.

“This year, we’re prepared for it to be almost entirely virtual, so we have a few more things planned!”

Events to look forward to for #FvT2021

The Youth Panel have organised two events for the Week of Action.

TransTalk- Wednesday 24th March, 7-8pm

This panel discussion will feature a group of young trans and non binary people in football. They will be discussing the importance of allies and how cis-folk can be better allies to trans and non binary people. Their perspectives of the game will help clubs, coaches and the wider football community to better understand what they can do to improve, shaping the next steps towards making sure football is truly inclusive for everyone.

Come along for this opportunity to ask questions about how you and your club can be better trans and non binary allies.

Register here:

101 LGBT+ Education- Friday 26th March, 4-6pm

This education session for 16-30 year olds, gives an introduction to LGBTQ+ identities. Participants on this training will start thinking about how to make their football team/club and their own daily environments more LGBT+ inclusive. The training will cover terminology, gender and sexuality, anti racism, trans rights, LGBT+ icons in football and how to be a great ally.

Register here:

Other things to watch out for:

#TransFootyAlly is a new virtual campaign for FvT 2021. All across the week of action, we are encouraging people to really show us the value of allyship in the game. For trans and non-binary people, what has someone done to make you feel safe & included? What more could people do to improve your football experience? For cisgender allies; how does the presence of trans and non-binary people in the game enrich your footballing life? What are you doing to make your club a more inclusive place for trans and non-binary people?

Trans and non binary people are also encouraged to share content about how cisgender people have been allies to them or to share top tips for those wanting to be allies in the game.

More information can be found here

Additional content for the Week of Action includes podcasts with trans and non binary,as well as information about how trans and non binary people can get into football.

A fun social event will round up the Week of Action, hosted by Natalie Washington.

Contacts and Social Media

Make sure to follow us on all social media channels for updates on FvT2021:

Twitter- @FvHyouth

Instagram- FvHyouth

Please tag us in any social media posts and use the hashtags #FvT2021 and #TransFootyAlly

Also remember to purchase your Football v Transphobia T-shirt to show your support for the campaign by clicking on the link below.

If you have any queries or questions regarding to the Week of Action, contact our Events Officer Danyal at

Written by Events Officer – Danyal Khan (@DKMatchreports)