Stonewall FC's Jay Lemonius reflects on his journey from Leytonstone to Wembley

As Stonewall FC prepare to play at Wembley Stadium in Friday’s historic Middlesex County League match with Wilberforce Wanderers, vice-captain and striker Jay Lemonius explains what it means to him and the club…

Thursday 29 Nov 2018
Jay Lemonius, vice captain of Stonewall FC, has spoken about how football provided him with an outlet growing up

This is a moment we’ve all been waiting for.

It’s so exciting for everyone involved with Stonewall FC, both past and present. The club’s been around for a few years, so there’s a lot of thanks to the previous players who have paved the way for where we are now.

Stonewall FC v Wilberforce Wanderers
  • Middlesex County Football League
  • 7.45pm, Friday 30 November 2018
  • Wembley Stadium connected by EE

As for the present, the game has come around really quickly since it was announced earlier this month and it’s fair to say competition has been high in training this week. There’s certainly been a couple of players who have been on a new fitness regime over the last few weeks!

Of course, everybody wants to be involved and it’s a special occasion which doesn’t come around too often, but it will be a really special day for everyone at the club, no matter what role they play. We’re all a family and those who play will be happy to go out and share it with everyone on the day.

This game is going to be something really special and has come at the right time to mark the new partnership between Stonewall UK and the FA and a sign of the commitment that the footballing bodies have put towards LGBT inclusion in the game.

We were already excited about the campaign and the direction we’re going in this year, so the fact that the FA could add their weight and credibility behind us was a great sign.

For me, it’s almost quite surreal when I look back on my own journey to hopefully running out at Wembley on Friday.

I’m from Leytonstone, east London, the same place as David Beckham which I always tell people, and growing up it was a quite difficult place at times.

We're excited about the campaign and the direction we're going in this season

Growing up, football was an outlet and it was seen as a way out really. I grew up in a single-mother household and it was an area where there were a lot of people who perhaps chose to go down different paths, but I had football to keep me going.

I was lucky enough to be engaged by football and it gave me the outlet that I needed and kept me out of trouble when I was younger.

I played for a number of teams and then I trialled for Barking Abbey, but due to money and distance, I couldn’t continue there and they put me in touch with different clubs, but with my situation, getting to training and trials was quite difficult.

But whether it was playing for clubs, academies or school, where former England disability coach Lyndon Lynch was my PE teacher, I always knew I was different.

Whether I was out or not at the time, I just got used to it. It became the norm for me.

Former England disability coach Lyndon Lynch was my PE teacher and big supporter for me

I first found LGBT football when I was still playing men’s university football for the University of Gloucestershire, which again was a typical challenging locker room.

I was studying sports development at university and I was out by that stage. On the whole, most of my experiences were good, but I was still different and the only gay guy on the sport campus.

Part of my dissertation was on LGBT and looking specifically at homophobia within football when I found out about an LGBT friendly league in London, so I contacted every team to get an interview with some of their players about their experiences.

London Romans were the ones who got back to me and when I’d finished my degree and had moved back to London, I started playing for them.

It was quite surreal to find out that there were a large number of LGBT people who played football, because for me growing up I always thought I was the only one. It was almost a humbling experience in understanding that you’re not alone and that there are people out there who have had similar experiences to you. 

And when I scored six goals in two games for them against Stonewall’s third team, their manager came over to invite me down and asked if I wanted to play at a higher standard. I hesitated initially, but then jumped at the chance and opportunity and I haven’t looked back since.

So, onto Friday. It’s been a good start to the season for us, we’re joint-second going into the game and we’re playing really good football in what has been a transitional season for us with a younger group of lads stepping up.

I’m lucky enough to be vice-captain and I think there’s been a real culture shift at the club which is for the better so we’ll go into the game with lots of confidence.

Most importantly though, I think it’s really important to raise that awareness that there is football for LGBT people. A lot of the clubs have become more predominant in the last few years and Stonewall being in the Middlesex County League has really helped to bridge that gap and pave the way for more gay players and teams to play on a more competitive stage.

Find out more about Friday's game at Wembley Stadium and the new partnership between Stonewall and The FA.

Has Jay's story inspired you to learn more about LGBT football? Find out more about Stonewall FC or London Romans and how to get involved.

By Jehmeil Lemonius Stonewall FC striker and vice captain