LGBTQ+ football opportunities within Brighton & Hove are limited, with just one dedicated sports society offering sessions for the community. The FA granted permission for Sussex County FA to host a mixed adult football project, which traditionally is not sanctioned. Therefore, removing the barrier of participation for non-binary and transgender people, who would have felt forced to identify as a specific gender upon joining a session, event, or Club. The project was supported by the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022 Legacy Group and Brighton & Hove City Council.
The team in Brighton & Hove wanted to achieve maximum impact within the community, with a target set to engage with a minimum of 70 players through the project. Furthermore, the project wanted to go beyond “just playing Football”, they wanted to turn players into spectators, encourage future coaches and inspire a community that football was truly for all. Preston Park was the prime location for the festival as the city centre position made it accessible for the target audience.
The project developed into a gender diverse, recreational six-a-side festival, taking place once a week during the height of the summer. The event was open to all LGBTQ+, Transgender, Non-Binary, Intersex Players and Allies. To ensure football was safe and comfortable for all involved, the format of the festival included 3 different groups. This approached ensured inclusivity through the event and that everyone felt welcome. There were a great balance of male, female and non-binary people playing football together and supporting each other.
Respect was a huge part of this event, both on and off the pitch. The level of respect shown played a huge part in fair play and the lack of injuries over the weeks. Brighton & Hove Albion FC Women and Lewes Community Football Club supported the festival, with both clubs donating tickets which were gifted to participants. Fliss Gibbons and Kayleigh Green from Brighton & Hove Albion FC Women made a guest appearance and cheered on the players during the festival.
The project exceeded expectations, with over a hundred players attending each week! After each event, most players and volunteers continued the socialising in a local pub who kindly offered discounts to all the players. Many of the individuals who joined the festivals have since joined together and meet regularly to play football.
Six weeks after the last event, 20 of the participants attended a fixture at the Dripping Pan to support Lewes FC women together and a group of 50 got together to watch Brighton & Hove Albion FC Women at the Brighton & Hove Community Stadium, one of ten host venues of the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022. Furthermore, participants donated £231 throughout the month to the Ledward Centre, a new LGBTQ+ community hub in Brighton.
The organisers sent out an anonymous survey, which participants responded with:
“… the atmosphere was really warm and welcoming. The event didn’t take itself too seriously, and that made all the different to me as a newbie to football in Brighton.”
“I’d also like to continue with recreational football tournament and other social activities like going to the stadium together, joining in for the Women’s EUROs next year,”
“I now have more confidence, so much so, that I have joined the gym to get fitter.”