First openly lesbian football team in Europe launch new kit in LGBT History Month
Past and present members of the first openly gay women’s football team in Europe have spoken of the importance of the “wonderful” club as it launches a new kit during LGBT History Month.
February marks LGBT History Month, as well as Football versus Homophobia Month, which offers those with a connection to Hackney Women’s Football Club (HWFC) the chance to highlight the valuable contribution it makes to the LGBT scene.
It has recently teamed up with creative agency WeAreFearless to design and launch a new kit on February 16, which represents HWFC’s position as a “pioneer in the football space”.
“The kit has our slogan on the sleeve – Playing with Pride since 1986 – it’s got the progress flag, the black triangle which was reclaimed by lesbians,” 24-year-old player Megan Kapadia, who lives in Islington, told the PA news agency.
“Having what our club means embodied through the kit is really cool.”
The colours of the club, which are red and black, are also used as the main colours on the kit.
Chris Paouros, who was the manager of the team from 1997-2002 and again in 2011-2013, added: “It is wonderful seeing all the incredible detail on the kit because HWFC is an important piece of LGBT history in this country.”
Ms Paouros said that upon moving to London, she found it hard to connect with other lesbians until her roommate’s partner told her about HWFC.
“I thought, I like football, I will join, and now I have lifelong friendships,” the 49-year-old who lives in Hackney said.
“I even met my wife there who has since passed away and others have had relationships, babies and many other strong connections have been built via the football team and to see it continuing to thrive is just wonderful.”
Ms Kapadia, who joined the club roughly two years ago and also acts as its social media manager, said she did not realise she needed the club in her life until she joined.
“I came out when I was at university,” she said.
“I remember going to my first training session and there was me and about two or three other new players.
“And I remember someone saying, ‘who’s going with this new player for the drills’ and the willingness to actively involve you and get to know you really makes you feel valued.
“Having an inclusive space is so important for everyone and I think that’s why it has grown so much and why it’s so attractive to new players.”
The club was founded in 1986 and has roughly 100 players across three teams – first team, reserves and a development team.
Ms Paouros added that football – more broadly – helps people feel as though they are part of a community.
“And that’s whether you’re a fan or a player and that’s why you can’t underestimate grassroots football,” she said.
“And a lot of the time, that’s reserved for boys and so having a women’s football team that’s been going for so long and more importantly, a lesbian football team, creates such an important sense of belonging for lots of reasons.”
Ms Paouros added the visibility of these spaces cannot be underestimated, especially for those at the beginning of a journey.
“It is a lesbian football club, but I’ve never known a time when there haven’t been a few straight women also involved just because it is such a welcoming space,” she said.
“We want to show that we are part of football too and that discrimination does still exist and so we still need to create spaces where we can properly operate and celebrate who we are.”
Some of her favourite memories from her time at the club include eating bagels outside Ridley Road Bagel Bakery before away games with the other players, going on countless tours for tournaments and knowing that “whether we won or lost a match, it didn’t matter because we had each other”.
Ms Kapadia said that she hopes footballers coming out is soon no longer something that has to be announced.
“It doesn’t have to be a big announcement because it’s not – it’s just who people are.”
Ms Paouros added that the importance of many of the Lionesses – who won the Euros – being out “cannot be underestimated”.
“We also see that there is a lot of feminisation of women’s footballers and notions of men maybe not feeling they will be seen as macho because they are gay.
“And we want to break down those gender stereotypes.”
Rebecca Sowden, women’s sport director at WeAreFearless said: “Part of building a better future for Women’s Football is recognising the work that has been done before.
“So it’s been a huge privilege to meet these extraordinary women who champion this incredible space for LGBTQ+ women.
“We are thrilled to partner with like-minded advocates of equal opportunity for everyone on the playing field, regardless of how they identify.”