This year, our Rainbow Laces campaign is celebrating the impact sport has on LGBTQ+ people, and the impact that LGBTQ+ people have on sport. In this Q&A Jo Chattoo, co-founder of Queer Kickabout, discusses their love of football and explains why inclusive teams are so vital.
What first got you into football?
I was always the sporty one at school! I used to play loads of sports, including football, but I dropped off at GCSEs. Flashforward to 2016… I found myself playing in an antifascist football tournament organised by Clapton FC, for the hastily assembled Queerspace FC – a ragtag group of queers trying to set up a permanent queer social space. Playing sport again was awesome and exhilarating. We decided we wanted to do it every week. And then Queer Kickabout was born!
What are the benefits of football for you?
For me, football is less of a competitive endeavour, and more about community, connection, collaboration and release. I’ve met good friends through football, and connected more with people I already knew. Those are amazing benefits!
Physical activity won’t solve all of your problems, but it goes a long way towards improving my general wellbeing.
Also, I enjoy incidental exercise. Playing football is a lot of fun and the perfect way to trick my body into running about and getting some movement into my week. Physical activity won’t solve all of your problems, but it goes a long way towards improving my general wellbeing.
Has there been a highlight of your time in football, or in Queer Kickabout, so far?
Beyond the thrill of the existence of a space where queer and trans people can feel comfortable and accepted no matter their level of play…. My highlight was probably winning the beginners’ league of the Spring Kicks tournament organised by Romance FC.
We had such a great day. We met loads of other cool teams, got swag bags and Vivianne Miedema handed out the trophies! It was the first proper thing we won. Being competitive is fun sometimes.
What has been your experience of being an LGBTQ+ person of colour in your sport?
It is really noticeable that women’s football is incredibly white compared to the men’s game, from grassroots leagues all the way up to national teams. It is clear that women of colour face more barriers into football. Add onto this the additional layer of being a queer person – and it gets tricky.
It is really noticeable that women’s football is incredibly white compared to the men’s game.
I’m often the only brown face in a white space, and being the only one within a group that navigates the world in a certain way can feel isolating and tiring. That’s why it felt extra important to create an alternative space, as the sort of spaces I wanted to play football in didn’t exist.
How did you go about making Queer Kickabout fully inclusive?
I think it’s hard to claim that any space is fully inclusive, but we are collaboratively run, and we do our best. It felt important to have a really clear description of what kind of space it is, and what values we expect people to hold, in order to look after each other.
Sometimes it can be easy to assume that as queer and trans people we’re not capable of oppressive behaviours ourselves. That’s why it’s important for us to acknowledge that things like racism, transphobia, fatphobia etc. exist within queer communities, and to do our best to avoid replicating them at Queer Kickabout. It’s also key to address issues instead of overlooking them, centre marginalised voices, and be open to feedback and criticism.
What would you say to an LGBTQ+ person who’s unsure whether they should give football a go?
Find the right space for you, and do it! Seriously, just do it! There can be so many barriers for queer people: ‘Is my body acceptable?’ ‘Can I bring my whole self to this group?’ Everyone deserves to have a space that makes them feel comfortable and accepted.
There can be so many barriers for queer people: ‘Is my body acceptable?’ ‘Can I bring my whole self to this group?’
If you can’t find one, think about creating your own. I guarantee there will be others out there looking for that kind of space too. The sense of community and the joy that comes from playing football with a bunch of queers is immeasurable! Exercise, connection and beers on the grass are what it’s all about.