More history will be made tomorrow night when TRUK United Football Club returns to action.
Last year, TRUK United fielded the world’s first ever football team composed solely of trans women in a friendly against Dulwich Hamlet. Tomorrow, the rematch takes place – alongside a similar men’s fixture between the same clubs.
Created in January 2021 with the aim to play fun, friendly and inclusive football across the UK and beyond, one of the founders was referee Lucy Clark.
Clark has been in the news many times since coming out as the world’s first transgender referee in 2018, and that proved to be a pivotal moment for many other people too.
In fact, it was the reaction to her story that led to the creation of TRUK United, which was named grassroots club of the year at the 2023 Football v Homophobia Awards.
“TRUK United came about because when my story broke about being a referee, loads of people got in touch with me to say they wished there was a team for them, but there wasn’t,” Clark recalled.
“I tried to tell people that there were loads of teams out there they could join, but they would usually say they didn’t think they would be accepted.
“Football is for everyone, so I thought I’d set a team up and then nobody could say there wasn’t a football team for them – the same way nobody could say there wasn’t a radio station or a helpline for them because I set those up.
“I knew a couple of trans players beforehand – Natalie Washington, who was playing in the lower leagues of women’s football; and Blair Hamilton who has moved up a couple of levels since then but she’s still not playing at the level she should be playing at.
“There was a trans man that I had refereed too, because they were still playing in women’s football at that point at a fairly high level, but I obviously knew that lots and lots of others wanted to play football.
“It’s the world’s game, right? There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, who want to be able to play football, so we thought we would create the opportunity and see who actually was interested.
“We’ve had over 100 people playing for us now, and last March we fielded the first ever team solely of transgender women, which had never been done before in the world. We lost 7–0.
“We’re replaying that match this year alongside our first ever team of transgender men. That has actually been done in India before, but it will be the first time a team solely of trans men have played outside of India.
“For those, and for our fully inclusive team, people travel from all over the UK to play for TRUK. We’ve got four coming down from Scotland for Friday, and we’ve got players coming up from Dorset and Devon – people are literally coming from all four corners of the UK to play for TRUK United. That’s how much the football team has become a community.”
Chosen football family
That community atmosphere TRUK United has was evident from the very first time people got together to play football.
Even outside of the team itself, people have fond memories of the first TRUK matches, and Clark is in no doubt that similarly lasting moments will be created tomorrow night.
Interest has certainly not been the issue, with far more players keen to take part – which Clark believes to be proof of the value of the club.
“To get everyone together and in one place, particularly for the first couple, people were travelling all over the country to come and play which made it all worthwhile,” Clark said.
“Everyone was buzzing, and people still talk about the first couple of matches now, even at the ground where we played the first match.
“They say it was the friendliest and most fulfilling day of football that they’ve ever had at Leatherhead, and they’ve been there for over 100 years, so it has seen some big matches. They’ve had some good FA Cup runs, and they’re a good non-league team, so for people to say that and still talk about it is amazing.
“It was just nice to put names to faces as well, because we had been talking to these people and it was a chance to actually meet them. Every time we get together, it’s amazing.
“Most of us travel longer than the actual games take, but we all love getting together and going down the pub for a drink afterwards.
“The spirit of the club – win, lose or draw – is second to none I think. It’s us getting together to show that trans people belong in sport, and should be playing sport.
“It’s a community, especially these teams. We’re all absolutely buzzing about the matches on Friday, they can’t come quickly enough.
“My favourite part of the night will be when we get a photo of the trans women’s team and the trans men’s team together – it will be about 40 or 50 people who have come from all over the country to represent TRUK, the trans community and themselves.
“It’s everyone standing up and saying ‘I’m just a human being who loves playing football’. Regardless of what’s said in the papers, or by people like JK Rowling or Posie Parker, we’re just living our lives.
“I’ll feel like a proud parent on Friday night with everyone there in our kit. I’m really looking forward to it.
“I’m not going to lie, we could have fielded two teams of each gender this Friday night. We’ve had so much interest from players that want to come and play for us.
“We could quite easily have fielded two teams, which is just totally amazing. It shows how much people are buying into our team.”
The increasing importance of visibility
It is no mistake that the matches against Dulwich Hamlet are taking place on international Trans Day of Visibility, which also marks the last day of the Football v Transphobia campaign.
Both occasions – the day of celebration and awareness and the football matches – take up ever more significance given the seemingly constant attacks on the trans community around the world.
What Clark wants to do (and what Trans Day of Visibility is designed for in many way), then, is to show that the detractors will not get the better of trans people, whether in everyday life or in sport.
“We’re getting banned from playing sports now, and we’re getting told that we can’t play sport,” she explained.
“These moments are occasions that show trans people love sport, and if you could put a bet on the matches on Friday we would be long outsiders to win either match.
“We’re not taking over sport, but we love it, and especially this year with the hate we’re getting and the bans in sports, it’s a good way to show the joy that we get from sport.
“There will be loads of people coming to support the matches that are cisgender, and to support trans people playing. The problem we have is that those who are against trans people, the noisy people, are low on numbers but they’re very noisy with it.
“It’s like putting a bunch of screaming babies in a room – you don’t need many of them to make a racket.
“That’s what these people are like, there are not many of them but they make lots and lots of noise to shout about their hate and make it a tough place for trans people, which is not how the world should be.
“Anyone that actually comes along or watches the highlights will just see people having a good time. There will be lots of smiling faces, lots of laughter, and there will be tears but they will generally be happy tears.
“We’ve got people who will be playing their first match of football for years. There will be some people playing that thought they would never play football again, and now they’re going to be playing in front of hundreds of people.
“The whole occasion, for them, will be amazing. So people will see us enjoying the beautiful game with a smile on our faces, which is how it should be played.
“I know last year’s match is ingrained on people’s memories forever, and I think this year’s matches will be even more so. We’re creating that moment again with the men’s team, and it will be amazing to see all the guys out there.
“Hopefully, like the women’s team, it will give them the impetus to go out and play more football and be involved in sport, so that they can play week in and week out. It’s going to be an amazing evening, I can’t wait.”
The weight of representation
Being subject to a barrage of abuse under the guise of “debate” would be enough to wear anyone down.
Clark, though, uses that as motivation to keep fighting and make sure that the future for trans people is a bright one.
Indeed, while being something of an activist was not a role she had particularly planned for, it is a cross she will happily bear as long as she can.
“We’ve obviously got Trans Radio and TRUK FC, and we’ve also got an activist account that I occasionally jump on, LGBwiththeT,” she reasoned.
“I’ve fallen into that category unintentionally I guess, but I also understand the perils that people in our community go through.
“Until I take my last breath, I’m going to be fighting for our community and to try and make the world a better place for trans, non-binary and non-gender conforming people.
“You get one life, so go and do what you want to do and don’t let anybody stop you from doing something you want to do and have a passion for.
“I’m living mine to try and make sure I do everything I want to do. I very nearly didn’t, I very nearly quit refereeing because I didn’t think the football world would accept me.
“I look back on that now and think how stupid I was to have that mentality, because I nearly let being trans stop me from doing something that I love.
“The world is a horrible place at times, but I’m a referee and I’m transgender, so I’ve got thick skin. If I can take the bullies to stop them going after other people, I’m prepared to do that.
“It very rarely gets to me to be honest. I’ve done a few interviews about Friday’s matches, and that attracts loads of hate, but if I can help educate some people, or make someone more understanding and accepting, then it’s all worthwhile.
“It’s not always easy, and it’s not nice to see some of the comments, but they’re just keyboard warriors. The real world is not as bad.
“Again, if I can take a bullet or a bit of hate, and that prevents them going after someone else or helps educate someone that could potentially hate, then it’s all worthwhile.”
While Friday night’s matches will be a momentous occasion, Clark is already planning for what could come next.
A call was recently put out to trans rugby players with a view to starting up TRUK Barbarians in response to bans on trans women participating in the sport across the UK and beyond.
Even in football, Clark feels there are more steps to be taken. She would love to see TRUK going back out around the country more often, and there could even be a third match to add to the calendar for Trans Day of Visibility 2024.
“We’ve played in various locations already, but we’re going to try and get TRUK moving around the country,” Clark added.
“It’s a bit like an international team, because there aren’t enough people for a trans league. I wouldn’t want to play in a trans league and be excluded anyway, because that’s not what it’s about – we should be able to play sport in our correct genders.
“We’re a bit of a representative team, going around the country and showing people that we are a team of transgender players who all love football.
“We’re not stopping with Friday’s matches – next year I’m going for a team of solely non-binary people!
“We’ve got some non-binary people who are playing this week, representing the gender they feel most aligned in. One person did say they would wait until the next game, because they are 50/50, but they were excited to know that there are plans for next year.
“We will do it, we will get a squad of non-binary people who can go out and have a match, and thoroughly enjoy it.
“As for the rugby, it’s not a game I’m a particularly big fan of and I’ve never played it. I’ve watched the odd game, I just much prefer football, but I’ve got lots of friends who are big rugby fans.
“I feel for my trans siblings who have been banned from playing the game they love. I’m going to try and set up a Barbarians team for them, where trans people will be able to play rugby again.
“I’m going to be looking my hardest for a team for us to play, even if that means we get a team of rebels or a team of people who have retired.
“I will get them playing matches, and I will stick two fingers up to the RFU for stopping trans people playing rugby.
“I’m also going to call out all of the big rugby clubs who have stuck their heads underneath the blanket and kept quiet. I’ve been told by some people that this person or that person supports us, but they can’t say anything because it doesn’t align with their club’s stance on the situation.
“From my research, and what I’ve been told by people, there is only one team out of all the big clubs that have got an LGBT+ group. That is ridiculous.
“I’m going to call out teams live Gloucester and Bath, Widnes and all these other teams to ask why they haven’t got LGBT groups. Do they not support LGBT+ people? Why?
“I’m going to call out Saracens and teams like that, because it’s totally wrong. Stand by for a big old wave from me to try and crash down the barriers in rugby.
“We’ve got nothing to lose – I certainly haven’t – and we’ve got everything to gain. If we can get trans people playing rugby again at some sort of level, then we’ll be on to a winner.”
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