This document has been written to help improve the League, providing a clear blueprint for accepted rules and expected conduct for both players and clubs. The document does not cover every eventuality and as the London Unity League continues to develop, so will this document via feedback and suggestions by clubs partaking in its running.
LUL News meets Casey, our Soho FC reporter
I grew up in north London, and enthusiastically followed my father into a life of heart-stopping emotions and perennial disappointment as a fan of Tottenham Hotspur. I played endlessly up until about 13, but my weekend club disbanded and football wasn’t offered at my secondary school, so I only trained 5-a-side irregularly with a team linked to a local youth club. I didn’t play at all from 18 to 21 as I went to university, where I became massively involved in dodgeball, and it wasn’t until I had graduated and I had a full-time job that I wanted to play football again.
My football highlight has to be The Five-One; we beat Arsenal 5-1 in January 2008, en route to our heroic lifting of the Carling Cup a month later, and me and my dad were at the Lane to see it.
I typed “LGBT football London” into Twitter and Soho was the first result! I also saw they were doing an event with the London Gaymers, which I’m not a member of but have heard good things about, so I assumed Soho were also a decent sort, which they turned out to be!
Everyone is friendly and welcoming, and there were never any awkward moments or difficult questions raised about my gender, which was a welcome relief, particularly in a sporting environment; in the past I’ve had the problem where I’ve introduced myself to a team as non-binary, only to see coaches and teammates’ eyes cross in confusion as they wonder which team to fit me into.
I appear to have taken on the role of club chronicler, writing match reports from our games for the LUL site, and also tweeted a few times from the sidelines. I also actually play football, occasionally, which is nice in a football club.
I told people that my name is Casey, that my pronouns are they/them, and then explained that, yes, this is a thing! In all seriousness, I told people I was non-binary, which was a new idea to some people, and they were all open to and understanding of the idea.
A few people wanted to know more about being non-binary, and I was happy to talk about it. There’s a real difference between someone asking a question because they genuinely don’t have experience with a topic and want to learn more, and someone asking a question to lead into harassing you over your answer; with Soho it was always the former, and that created such a positive environment where we could talk about my gender without it ever being awkward or confrontational.
I absolutely felt included, and am definitely enjoying my time with the club. Personally, I’m working on improving my game and pushing in the first team. But, more broadly, I’d like to create an environment that’s welcoming for trans and gender-non-conforming people who want to play football. Trans people do exist and do want to play sports, but unfortunately sport tends to be an environment where closed-minded pseudoscientists and definition-by-genitals crowd have their voices heard, and claim to justify transphobic policies or ideas with thinly-veiled commitments to “fair play”.
Things can be made even more complicated by non-binary genders, where teams are divided into men’s and women’s sections, and as a result coaches and administrators see players as people along those same lines. And a lot of this isn’t necessary malicious or even intentional, it just stems from a lack of information about, and experience with, trans and non-binary people; a lot of my former coaches in other teams and in other sports would be completely supportive of my gender, but would casually divide a session between men and women because they’re used to only thinking about their players in those terms.
My experience with LUL is somewhat limited, as I’ve only spent considerable time with one team and have only been involved in the league for a few months, but it has been very positive. Everyone I’ve spoken to is open-minded and accepting of my being non-binary, and the only small difficulties, such as occasional and accidental misgenderings, come from a lack of experience of living and working with non-binary people, rather than prejudice.
I think the league not separating players based on gender is a key contributor to that, too. By not separating players in training sessions and on the pitch on weekends, a lot of the physical barriers to the acceptance of non-binary people are removed. It can be difficult to politely remind coaches and administrators that non-binary people exist when people are being made to stand on different courts based on their gender, as happens in other sports I’ve played.
I wouldn’t say the league is perfect with regards to trans and non-binary genders – to be honest, nowhere really is – but there is certainly a mentality amongst the people involved in the league, and an openness in the administration of the league, that is hugely promising. In my opinion, all we need now are more trans and non-binary players, coaches and administrators to take on active roles in the league, which I’m sure will happen in time.