On Transgender Day of Visibility, football snapper Sophie Cook picks out ten images

Tuesday 31 Mar 2020
Dr Sophie Cook became the first trans gender photographer in the Premier League in 2015

To mark International Transgender Day of Visibility, and the close of The FA-endorsed Football v Transphobia week if action, transgender photographer Dr Sophie Cook reveals her ten favourite photos.

The 53-year-old transitioned from Steve to Sophie in 2015 and in doing so, also became the first transgender woman to work in the Premier League as a photographer for AFC Bournemouth.

She has since contested East Worthing & Shoreham in the 2017 General Election and is currently a key worker specialising in mental health and dementia care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first photo I have chosen is where I think most of us fall in love with the game – it's a childhood kickabout with friends. I have always loved this image which I captured at Salford Quays back in 2007. It's just a few minutes walk from Old Trafford. And for those of you into your art, the photo reminds me of LS Lowry's so-called 'matchstick men'. His work is exhibited in the gallery right beside this square.

I've always believed that football is a universal language capable of uniting disparate groups. That shared love of the game is never more evident than when tragedy strikes or when a hero passes. George Best was one of my idols. He was, of course, best-known for his glory days at Manchester United, but also made a handful of appearances for Bournemouth in the 1980s. The sea of tributes outside Old Trafford when he passed away in 2005 included shirts from all over the world. Condolences came from rivals on the pitch, but family off it. It was a really emotional event to cover.

This was the moment Bournemouth began their rise from the bottom of League One to the Premier League. Eddie Howe returned to Dean Court in October 2012 with the Cherries facing a relegation battle. The blind optimism of everyone at the club is reflected in the prophetic advertising hoarding for the stadium's restaurant, Champions. Things looked bleak back then, but Howe would soon turn things around.

This is a powerful image showing pure elation. Striker Matt Tubbs was celebrating at a foggy Dean Court after scoring against eventual League 1 champions Doncaster Rovers during Bournemouth's run towards the top of the table. I think the mist behind Tubbs adds a magical air and makes the photo stand out more.

Just five months after returning to the club, Howe secured promotion to the Championship. Following victory on the final day at home to Carlisle, there was a nervous wait in the changing room to see if other results meant the Cherries were League One champions. I could feel the tension waiting with my camera in the tunnel. Sadly, they had to settle for the runners-up spot, but it was still promotion to the second tier –something the club had only ever achieved once before.

After finishing tenth in their first season in the Championship, the Cherries were on fire to start 2014-15, too. I think the excitement of that campaign is captured perfectly in this image as Matt Ritchie celebrates scoring against Derby County.

This was a significant day for both myself and the club.
It was a privilege to capture Bournemouth's promotion to the Premier League, which came only seven years after narrowly avoiding liquidation. Captain Tommy Elphick hoisted aloft the Championship trophy to the joy of the thousands of fans crowding Bournemouth beach. This was also my last day with the club before my transition from Steve to Sophie during the summer of 2015.

It was a new dawn for the Cherries as they joined football's elite in the Premier League and a new me on the touchline capturing all of the action. I was officially Sophie Cook, newly out and the first transgender person to work in English football's highest league. It was incredible and I was touched to have the full and vocal support of Bournemouth and even a personal message of encouragement from Howe himself.

While many told me it would be too dangerous to return to football as an out and proud transgender woman, the game has been amazingly supportive. From my visits to clubs around the country, speaking engagements and making new friends to helping fight prejudice within the game or attending England's World Cup semi-final in Moscow as a guest of FIFA in 2018 – I have been accepted and welcomed wherever I've gone. Football is everyone's game and I'm proud to be part of the family.

Last year, it was an honour to be the player-manager of Rainbow Rovers, a mixed gender team of LGBT players and allies who took on a squad of ex-Premier League legends in the Football United charity match at Whitehawk Football Club. Not only did the match raise the profile of LGBT players within the game, we also managed to beat the Legends 5-2!

You can follow Dr Sophie Cook on Twitter via @sophiecooktalks. She has also written a book titled, 'Not Today: How I chose Life' where you can read more about her inspiring life story.

By Dr Sophie Cook