As I hopped over the goalpost, my team erupted in cheers.
“Well done, Superman,” congratulated a fellow player.
It was euphoric to get back to doing what I loved as a kid and to be in such a supportive environment – 11 years after I gave it up.
Playing off the pitch after such a long break was terrifying but exhilarating.
I had given up my favorite sport due to persistent homophobia – but after finding an LGBTQ+ inclusive team I fell in love with football again.
Football was a hugely important part of my life from a young age.
I used to play soccer with friends between the ages of seven and eleven after school (although I was the only girl to play) and go to games with my dad. A bovril and cake was our half time ritual.
My parents were incredibly supportive of my love of football. They encouraged me to join my first all-female team when I was eleven. I played in goal and they came to every game and cheered me on from the touchline – even when we lost 8-0.
I was used to hearing homophobic comments towards women playing soccer growing up, it was something pretty much all of my teammates experienced.
I’ve been taunted by people at school who scolded me about the sport.
At first I tried not to let it bother me, but as I progressed in school it started to affect me more.
The question of whether I was a lesbian just because I played soccer became exhausting. It also sent me into a spiral — I knew I was more attracted to women than men, but I didn’t want to admit that to anyone, even to myself.
Hardly anyone at school was openly LGBT+ and those who were either gossip or bullied. I couldn’t stand the constant speculation about my sexuality and decided to hang up my football boots when I was 14.
Essentially, homophobia and the misconception that football is exclusively a man’s sport forced me out of a game I loved.
After that, I didn’t play football for over a decade.
Unfortunately, my experience is not uncommon – many LGBTQ+ people still feel unsafe and unwelcome in sport. Out in Sport found that across Europe, 82% of LGBTQ+ people who play sport have experienced or witnessed homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the last 12 months.
It was incredible to see Jake Daniels emerge last month and become the first openly gay male professional footballer in the UK in 30 years. But the fact that this has taken three decades to happen shows how much work still needs to be done.
My coming out was a gradual process.
I knew I was attracted to women, but due to the lack of visibility of LGBTQ+ people in my hometown of Hartlepool, I never thought gay would be an option for me.
Things started to change when I moved to Birmingham at 18 for university. During my freshman year I told my brother and sister that I like girls and have their full support. My brother did it via text message and his response was “mint lol” while my sister went for “I LOVE Lesbians!”.
It was several years before I was open about my sexuality with other members of my family and friends. I had internalized the homophobic reactions to my love of football and felt that ‘lesbian’ was a dirty word.
Not everyone around me accepted that, but my LGBTQ+ friends were a lifeline. They showed me that our identities are something to be proud of and it made a huge difference in how I saw myself.
Stepping into a new position in an inclusive workplace was also a turning point. Bringing my authentic self to work has helped me care less about what other people think and opened me up to the idea of getting back on the court.
I first heard about Goal Diggers through word of mouth, as did other inclusive teams — with great names like Bend It Like Peckham.
Goal Diggers is a non-profit organization founded in London to make football more accessible and accessible to all women and non-binary people – regardless of previous experience or ability.
After many failed attempts to create a team of five with friends, I saw on Instagram that they were recruiting after goalkeepers. I hesitated but decided to call in for a training session.
Playing football for the first time since I was a teenager was a nerve-wracking experience, but the inclusive and welcoming atmosphere at Goal Diggers made me feel good. Coming to my first training session, I learned that the ethos of the team is to show that football is a sport for everyone.
Goal Diggers recognize the importance of trans inclusion in sport – at every practice and game we all share our pronouns to ensure it’s a space where trans and non-binary people feel welcome.
Their shirt also features “1921” instead of individual numbers to mark the year the FA banned women from football. The ban was a reaction to the popularity of women’s football and was enforced until 1971.
Goal Diggers wanted to commemorate the ban to educate people about why women are still catching up – to this day – and how the ripples of that ban are still being felt.
Joining the team was transformative. Being able to look around and see a breadth of queerness has allowed me to celebrate my sexuality.
After each training session, my team and I head to the local pub for pints and pizza. It feels great to be able to be the authentic me all the time – on and off the pitch.
Today I can be proud to be a soccer-playing lesbian. I no longer see the word “lesbian” as an insult.
I’m going to play again too. I recently attended a Women’s Super League game and loved how supportive the atmosphere was.
We all have a responsibility to make sport a welcoming place for everyone, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, age or ability.
Of course, it’s important for teams to make sure their club is a safe place and that discrimination of any kind is fought – but they can’t make the sport for everyone.
We can make sport an inclusive environment by supporting and uplifting LGBTQ+ players and challenging offensive language when we hear it.
Now I’m part of the Goal Diggers community and I hope to play football for many years to come.
Do you have a story you would like to share? Contact us by emailing James.Besanvalle@metro.co.uk.
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https://metro.co.uk/2022/06/19/i-quit-football-for-14-years-after-homophobia-stopped-me-playing-16787648/ I quit soccer for 14 years after homophobia stopped me from playing | Soccer