“Having a Physical Space Is the First Step to Creating a Community”: How Stonewall FC Are Making More Collectives Feel a Part of Football

“Having a Physical Space Is the First Step to Creating a Community”: How Stonewall FC Are Making More Collectives Feel a Part of Football

Stonewall FC are throwing their support behind 'Pitch, Please' – a campaign from adidas, Powerleague and VERSUS to provide more pitches for women, girls and non-binary players.

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September 30th 2022

'Pitch, Please!' is a campaign from adidas, Powerleague and VERSUS that unlocked access to football for a new generation of players. Following the biggest summer in women’s football in history, we provided free pitch space to women, girls and non-binary players all throughout August – but the work doesn't stop here. As we count down towards the new domestic season in the women's game, we're linking up with some of the most influential grassroots communities in the game to talk about why it's so important for more communities to have somewhere safe to kick ball.

Stonewall FC is renowned for being the world’s most successful LGBTQ+ football club. Their work to make football a more inclusive space for everyone, regardless of sexual or gender identity, is what sets them apart from everyone else. With a number of teams across several leagues, Stonewall’s impact can be felt across various levels of the game. Some of their most purposeful work has been carried out by their women’s and non-binary teams, who aim to create safe spaces for anyone and everyone who simply want to enjoy the game they love.

Whilst the WSL’s profile continues to grow in light of one of the biggest summers in women’s football history, grassroots teams like Stonewall FC are putting in the work both on and off the pitch to ensure those who’ve been excluded from the game in the past, have a space to call their own.

VERSUS linked up with Stonewall FC’s Club Secretary, Antonia Lines, to discover what brought about their love for the game, why the club is important to the game’s development and what more needs to be done to make football a game for all.

Photography: Elliot Simpson

VERSUS: Where did your love of football come from?

Antonia Lines: My love for football came from Tony Yeboah. My family are Leeds fans. I grew up around Leeds United, watching the likes of Mark Viduka, Harry Kewell and Yeboah playing football, and I just wanted to learn how to volley like Tony! So I always played No.21. Even now playing for Stonewall FC, I wear the No.21. We’ve just got new shirts printed and everyone’s been fighting over numbers, and I’m there like…“I’ll take No.21 please!”

Growing up, did you have much access to playing football?

Where I grew up in the North of England in the late 90s and early 00s, girls’ football wasn’t really a ‘thing’, let alone something that was supported by existing grassroots teams. I have a really vivid memory of walking up to a local team with a group of friends – there were eight of us in total – asking if we could play football with them and possibly be their girls’ team…they said no. Their reason for not letting us join was that they didn’t have the resources or funding to form another team, but it felt very clear from the beginning that they just didn’t really have any interest in helping us. They just didn’t ‘see’ us in that environment, they didn’t want to share their space with us. They actually ended up handing my dad a tin of gloss paint and telling him: “if they want to play football, they can make their own pitch.” So that’s what my dad and his mates did for us. They painted a pitch on a piece of unused land next to a school and that’s where we played an untold amount of friendlies for years before eventually getting enough money together to fund our own team.

We were really lucky that we had the support of our parents, and even more lucky to find a space that we could call our own. In the end we did play for the team who turned us away initially, because the FA started to fund girls’ teams, but we still weren’t allowed to use their pitch. On top of that, we didn’t have any kit so we had to use plain, white PE-style t-shirts. We wore those until one of the dads sorted kit and sponsorship for us, but we still played on our gloss paint pitch.

What does it mean to be a club secretary?

It’s fun! I’ve been doing it for a while. I did it for the whole of last season and picked it up again this year. It’s quite admin heavy in terms of registering players and stuff like that, but it’s really good because we’ve got a men’s, women’s and non binary team and it’s actually really nice to be able to see all the players before they play. It’s like I get a little mugshot of everyone when they first start! I like that I get to know all the players…I also get to see who receives the most yellow cards and who has to pay the most fines! I carry out that role alongside playing for the non-binary team.

What has that journey been like and what is it like being able to help with pitch provision?

It’s really nice! Especially when I think about the time I had growing up and not having an ‘official’ space to play on.

At Stonewall, we’re very lucky because we have both pitch and training spaces. Both the women’s and non-binary team get to use those spaces whenever we want. I think what we’re missing is the infrastructure to allow us to play XIs regularly. We don’t have managers, coaches, referees or additional coaches who can help us.

What’s really nice is, I’ve gone from being 14 and using coats for goalposts in the park to now being in a position where we can not only play on actual pitches but we do so while wearing an adidas kit…one that’s even in FIFA! All these really cool things are happening, and to be involved as the Club Secretary, it feels great! It feels like a big role but I’m a very small part in a very huge team of people that do so much more. That feels really good, particularly growing up as a queer person and now being able to play as myself and support one of the biggest LGBTQ+ clubs in the country, it actually makes me quite emotional if I really think about it.

Why is a club like Stonewall FC so important to the football landscape, and how has the playing experience varied to some of your previous experiences?

Stonewall FC creates a space that you can just be yourself in and don’t have to necessarily worry about people not respecting who you are, or using the wrong pronouns for you or anything like that.

It creates this space where people can be themselves and concentrate on football, which is what everybody wants to do, right? All of us at the club – no matter what team we’re in – just want to play football and be part of a community. I think that’s the key thing, building a community of our own.

I think when you’ve got a lot of people from similar marginalised groups and you think about the role that identity plays for people in accessing spaces, feeling safe in their spaces, feeling able to fully commit to those spaces and be part of something like that…that’s what Stonewall really offers to a lot of different people from a lot of different backgrounds. That’s probably the most important thing for me personally and why being a part of creating that space and continuing to offer it to other people is really important.

adidas, Powerleague and VERSUS gave away 150 hours of pitch access at venues all over the country. What difference do you think actions like that can make?

I think it’s massive! Having that physical space is the first step to creating a community. When you think about it, what is a safe space? In terms of where that came from and the history around the LGBTQ+ community, around people of colour, people from different marginalized groups – you need that physical space to freely express your culture. So yes, it’s really important to have that physical space to play football.

If I had pitch provision available to me as a young person, it would have been much easier to be involved in football. Maybe I would have become Tony Yeboah afterall! When you look at the Euros, young girls and non-binary people will now want to be footballers, and in order for them to achieve that they need places to play. If we want the next Ellen Whites and Lucy Bronzes, we need to ensure they have somewhere to develop their skills.

You mention the Euros. While it was a celebration, we know there are still communities that do not feel a part of football. How can we encourage those communities to get involved with the game?

When you look at the campaigns around football, whether it’s “kick racism out of football” or the Rainbow Laces campaign, all those kinds of things are trying to support people who – for a long time – have thought football isn’t a space for them. I feel like that’s a super important thing, football is for everyone and it should always be for everyone. The physical space should be there but also the infrastructure to support people should be there, too.

Whether that is bringing more young Black players into the game, or more young women, non-binary people and trans people…everyone should feel supported to play, especially at a grassroots level. I think we’re getting to a place now where people want to be able to ensure that everyone can use those spaces, which is really good.

It’s really important that this isn’t just about players, but being able to see female managers too. Not only in that role, but succeeding in that role and being able to see coaches and physios too. All of those people on the sidelines and in the dugouts are really important, having that representation across all of football is vital. However, there is still a huge lack of women of colour at that level. There’s a huge lack of trans inclusion and non-binary inclusion at the elite level too. I could go on, but it shows that there is a lot of work to do. I think it’s important that the grassroots game opens up that space to as many people as possible because you’re not going to get things changing at the top if they’re not changing at the bottom. We must create a pathway for everyone to be able to play and be involved in football. That is why I love Stonewall so much.

For more information on how grassroots teams are pushing football forward, visit the adidas Football Collective.