Over the last few years, there has been a shift among clubs targeting the LGBTQIA+ community away from the term ‘LGBT+ clubs’ towards ‘inclusive clubs’.
This has happened for a variety of reasons, not in the least because many of the clubs are not exclusively LGBTQIA+. They also cater for straight allies, and there has been a movement towards inclusion in other areas too – becoming a safe haven for people from various social backgrounds or ethnicities.
Another aspect that is becoming increasingly prominent in the branding of inclusive clubs is ability. With some in the LGBTQIA+ community feeling shunted to the side by sport at a younger age, if they try to pick something up at a later stage in life then they may not have the experience that others do.
That can make joining a club quite daunting, but that is where Glasgow West hope to come in.
The newest inclusive club in Scotland targets female, non-binary and trans football players, with a particular emphasis on the social and community aspect of joining a club over competitiveness. It was created by a group of teammates who had become disillusioned with the focus on achievement, and who have now formed Glasgow West’s committee.
“We felt like that was something that didn’t really exist,” chairperson Kimi Inglis said.
“I just kind of had a bit of a ‘fuck it’ moment and thought ‘let’s just do this ourselves. Let’s just start a football team’. We started it on kind of a whim, and now we’re here and it’s amazing because it’s something we’re all really keen to build on. It’s something we’re really keen to do, we’re determined to make it work.”
Head of social media, Natalia Casci, said: “It’s particularly personal for me as well, because I’m really new to football. It’s only been a few months since I started playing actually, and I think that was part of wanting it to be inclusive for people like me who had no clue.
“My girlfriend plays football, and that’s the only reason I turned up – because she was going to be there. So I had somebody there, but we’ve been talking more and more about what this means to us and one of the things that’s important to us is that people feel if they’re nervous, they’ve got a welcoming space, a safe space, no matter who they are and how they identify.”
Coach Emma Porteous added: “We all bring something different to the table. We’ve been in football between two months and years and years and years. Regardless of ability and what we’ve done, we have the exact same goal, so we know that we can create something to be proud of.
“If we’re not, then what’s the point? If we feel comfortable and we’re all part of that LGBTQ+ or allied community, then we want to create that space for people to feel safe in. We have a common goal and I think that draws us all together. Every experience makes it better.”
Kimi: “Our club is aimed at fully mixed ability, and we are going into this with the common goal of just having friendlies and making sure that everyone gets on the pitch, no one’s nervous and everyone’s just able to show up and have fun.
“We want to create a community more than anything where regardless of whether or not you’re actually, sort of, competent at playing football, you can be confident that your teammates are your friends and that everyone has your back.”
Hannah Box, Glasgow West’s treasurer, said: “Yeah, I think a lot of the spaces that exist right now can be quite competitive, and while that’s good for some people who have been playing for a long time it can be excluding and very unwelcoming if you’re new to football, or even just new to that team and new to that space, if you don’t have that encouragement.
“That’s part of our goal, to really be that space where you come in – you may have never played before in your life – and we’re going to help you and welcome you. You can play as much as you want and we’re here to support you.
“We’re not going to yell at you. We’re not going to create any negative energy around the sport because that’s what this space is for. It’s for fun, it’s to help people be healthier and happier. I think that’s a really key point that we’re focusing on.”
It is relatively rare to see inclusive teams targeted at women. Usually women’s sport is held up as a far more welcoming environment than, and an example to, men’s sport.
What Glasgow West hope to achieve is not just giving LGBTQIA+ people a place to play sport, though. Put simply, they also aim to give people more options for how they approach football.
Emma: “Women’s football has always been inclusive to LGBTQ+, because you were essentially always discriminated against when you were younger – ‘if you play football, you’re gay’ and blah blah blah. Little did they know that gave us a safe place to go play.
“We’ve grown that more now into trans and non-binary, because everybody should be included, but I also think because women’s football has grown it’s getting so competitive. It’s a good thing that it’s grown, but everybody has to be in a league, everybody has to go through the SWFA.
“Even for us just to play a friendly we have to be in the SWFA, so that excludes people, but we’re making it all as legit as we can while screaming our message at the exact same time. That isn’t going to change us. The SWFA isn’t going to change us, our values, our ethos, is still gonna stay the same.
“My coaching will also include all abilities. It’s not just going to be ‘here’s a massively complicated drill’ when you don’t know how to pass the ball or you don’t know how to shoot. It’s not welcoming and it’s not going to make people feel happy or safe. It’s going to make them feel like they’re really not doing okay, they can’t do this drill right off the bat.
“You need to include people from the ground up. Yeah, we’re creating the safe space for all these people that are under this banner of Pride, but also when they come, regardless of ability, they’re going to feel safe.
“We want to bring back community in football and allow a woman to come play and then create this group of friends throughout it, rather than being all like, ‘I didn’t get game on Sunday, and I didn’t do this, and I’m not doing that for the team’. We just want to have fun and play football.”
Hannah: “It’s interesting coming from my perspective, because I’m from the US and I played in an adult league there that was purely recreational, so it was kind of like what we’re creating as a team.
“Here there’s this focus on young women and developing women’s football so that women can be more competitive, but it seems that they’ve taken adult women’s football and they’re trying to make that as competitive as young women’s football. It’s interesting because we have full time jobs and this is something we want to do for fun, and that’s why we want an inclusive community and we want it to have a social aspect.
“There’s a gap there. There’s really competitive young woman’s and young people’s football, and really competitive adult, and there’s a gap where we want this social, recreational, supportive community. Hopefully we can fill that gap.”
Glasgow West were helped along in their journey, still only weeks old, by LEAP Sports who are helping them get off the ground. Part of that enthusiasm to help from LEAP may have been because as far as the club knows, they are the only entity in Scotland with the values and ambitions that they have – which begs the question why nobody has done it before?
Natalia: “It’s a great question. Who sits back thinks ‘I don’t like how this is going, I’ll just do it myself’? It’s quite a big task, and I think it just took us getting to a breaking point.
“We were all at the same club at the time, and were all getting bogged down by the same issues – too much focus on ability, and not enough of this kind of inclusive message. It all just came to a head one day.”
Kimi: “Something needed to be done, and we all felt exactly the same way, so we thought let’s just do it. It came at the right time for us.”
Natalia: “I think that’s why it doesn’t exist – probably because people don’t have the balls to do it.”
Kimi: “We were so lucky that LEAP actually reached out to us and said they were going to set up a meeting with us, this is something they really wanted to fund, they will help us at least gain registration because this is something they believed in.
“That was incredible. That was a huge moment where our wee idea became this reality basically. It was just fantastic.”
Hannah: “It was very exciting. We had to go for a drink after that. We weren’t sure if it was gonna work or not, and they were like ‘we want to help you’.”
The support Glasgow West has received from the likes of LEAP has been a big help, because there are no lack of challenges when it comes to setting up a new club. The sheer amount of paperwork they have had to deal with has been one major hurdle, as has the availability of pitches because of high demand.
One area that has been no issue, though, is player recruitment, with 15 players already keen to play for Glasgow West – a number that should only grow as word of mouth grows and the clubs begins to properly establish itself.
Natalia: “We’re trying to break the mould, but we have to go and jump through these hoops.”
Emma: “We have to make the mould before we can break it! We’re not short of support in where we want to go, so that’s good.
“I think that has been the biggest problem, maybe (the level of paperwork) is also a reason why a lot of clubs don’t do it. They need to become so official just to be not so official. We can’t play friendlies unless we’re SWFA certified, but then what if people don’t want to do that and they just want be a social team? We have to do that.
“It’s been super overwhelming. There are a lot of barriers, and it’s ridiculous that you need to go through it to just play football, but also everybody is so willing to help us to do it that everything will get through.”
Natalia: “It’s almost like people have been waiting for something like this, so maybe we will pave the way to change that. It shouldn’t be so difficult to try and do something that’s different. We’re having to go the exact same route, but we’re not trying to do the exact same thing.”
Emma: “I think that’s the difference. This team is going to be a player-run team, every player is going to be able to have their say.
“Usually clubs are run by somebody outside, whereas we want everybody to feel valued and have a voice. Founding and creating something has been great because we’ve all played football, and we all know what we don’t want – which is very much why we created something that we want and we know other people will want. I think if we just keep voicing our message, playing football and what we want to do then people will come.”
The committee already have plans in place to make things as inclusive as possible at Glasgow West. They hope to designate someone as a point of contact for players to approach with any concerns or questions, as well as being the first port of call for prospective new players. If people are keen to join, but on their own, Glasgow West aim to set up a buddy system so that people are not coming to training completely on their own at first, and even before that stage they plan to do FAQs on social media in case anyone is hesitant about getting in touch to ask.
Training will be free – at least at first – to account for financial inclusion as well, with a view to playing friendlies against other clubs with a similar ethos. Long term, the players’ wishes will come to the fore. If they want to enter a recreational league, that is what Glasgow West will do. If they want to enter festivals, whether in the UK or abroad, that is what Glasgow West will do.
Individually, though, each of the committee members have their own wishes for what they want to get out of the club on top of having a place to have fun in football again.
Natalia: “I think eventually we want to become renowned for what we stand for, and for people to just see us as this opportunity for them – something that they can join and be like ‘I’ve heard of that, I want to be involved in that’.
“For me, it’s because when I started playing I was working from home for the second year in-a-row, most of my friends had moved away after uni and during the pandemic I was very isolated. I really needed an outlet. I also have a girlfriend and am part of LGBT+ community as well, so football helped it not be too bad.
“That’s what I got out of it, and for me that’s exactly what I want to create because when I got there the emphasis on ability really set me back. I was there to let loose – I just wanted to meet new people, learn a new skill or a hobby, and have outlet that like got me active.
“If that’s something that we can deliver along with everything else, that’d be really important because as much as we become more and more aware of mental health, we’re not there yet. Medical services are not there yet, and I think the more awareness that we can raise in all these different corners will eventually rise up. I struggle with my mental health a lot, so it’s really important to me.”
Emma: “For me, kind of from a selfish point of view, for the first time I’ll able to coach an 11-a-side team and that really excites me.
“It’s a challenge – not in a bad way – having such a mixed ability group and being able to like put forth knowledge that I’ve had bundled up and saved for ages and be able to give it to people. I’ve been coaching for a while, and this safe environment excites me to be part of that again, but on a bigger basis.
“I’m also slightly similar to Natalia when it comes to my mental health, and I’ve been trying to use football as an outlet. I’ve always loved coaching, and what better way to make you smile and happy than to coach people who are really there for what the club is about and get to watch people grow and develop and be comfortable enough to play football in the long run. Spreading the message brings me joy.”
Hannah: “I sought out football after the pandemic because I also was in a really poor place mentally. I was exercising and football has always been something that I’ve gone to. This club is that space for people, whether you’ve played before or not, to come and try something new or join a team and feel included.
“When I played in an adult league in the States, that was just a bunch of friends getting together on a Sunday, and that was something that I looked forward to every week even though we didn’t train together. It was like we’re going to come together, we’re going to kick the ball about, we’ll play this game and it’ll just be really nice – and it always was.
“I think that’s lacking here, so this space, this team is going to create that for people. It’s going to be welcoming, it’s going to be fun and it’s going to be inclusive to people that have mixed ability, so I’m really looking forward to sharing my love of football with everyone.”
Kimi: “I feel like I was in sort of a similar place. I came back to football because I just really wanted to engage with and meet more folk and actually be part of a community.
“With new teams there is always an air of alienation. You’re always the new person and it’s hard to engage, it’s hard to have that social aspect, so you’ll maybe find one or two rare gems that you cling to, but it’s really hard. Firstly I just want to create a space where women, trans people and non-binary people can just show up and get to actually make friends and it doesn’t have to be about anything else. You can just come and feel like you’re having a nice time.
“Holding our integrity as well – having our message constantly there. We never want to move away from that, and if any of us do we’ll have to rein each other in. We just have to make sure everyone’s having a nice time, because it can be scary and daunting showing up to a team and not really feeling a part of something, feeling a bit on the fringes.”
Hannah: “I moved to Glasgow last February, and the only way I met my friends was through football. I’m really thankful that football can be that space, and that we’re hopefully going to be able to create that space for other people.”
Glasgow West FC are hosting a fundraiser quiz on Friday, February 18 at Dram to help with registration fees for joining the Scottish Women’s Football Association. More details can be found on the club’s Instagram page, which is also how anyone interested in joining should get in touch.