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First LGBTQ+ sessions in Lincolnshire aim to break down barriers to participation in football





An innovative project has been launched in a bid to make football more accessible to people who have felt marginalised by the sport’s macho image.

LGBTQ+ Inclusive Recreational Football Programme sessions are being run by Lincoln United Football Club at Lincoln City's LNER Stadium's 3G Astro every Wednesday night from 8pm – and are attracting people from right across the county and region.

The sessions offer a safe space for people of all genders and sexual orientations to train in a supportive environment – with an ambition to truly let everyone enjoy a sport that aspires to the name ‘the beautiful game’.

In the past, people from Lincolnshire have had to go to Nottingham or Leicester for a similar programme before the one in Lincoln began,
In the past, people from Lincolnshire have had to go to Nottingham or Leicester for a similar programme before the one in Lincoln began,

It also fills a void locally, ensuring that participants don't have to travel to similar sessions in places further afield such as Nottingham or Leicester.

Callum Prince is a programme participant and the volunteer development officer for the Gay Football Supporters Network. He travelled an hour from Leicestershire to take part and show his support.

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Callum is passionate about football but his experiences around the game he loves have not always been positive ones.

Callum Prince talked about his experiences with homophobia and why programmes like this are so important.
Callum Prince talked about his experiences with homophobia and why programmes like this are so important.

"I came into inclusive LGBTQ+ football a few years ago after I was homophobically abused at a Sunday league game," said Callum.

The incident came when he was linesman in a Leicestershire match on June 13 2021 – which he describes as the day his ‘whole world was turned upside down’.

Callum was subjected to horrendous verbal abuse including being asked if his father had molested him as a child — this was followed by laughter and more jeers from the crowd.

The impact of those comments affected Callum deeply and he said that he froze in the moment.

He explained: "It was in that 45 minutes of the second half of a local grassroots game of football, that my life changed forever.

"I could feel my love, my passion, the place I could escape from any worries, being taken away from me.

"It was taken away from me.”

Callum added: "I had to re-live that day, over and over for months on end.

"I did not want to play football any longer, I did not want to even watch football.”

The sessions provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ members of the community to be themselves.
The sessions provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ members of the community to be themselves.

Callum joined an LGBTQ+ team called Leicester Wildcats and said his passion for the game was reignited. He’s now hoping to inspire a similar love of the game for Lincolnshire footballers who feel that discrimination stops them enjoying the spot they love.

"After what I went through with the abuse, this has become a real passion for me," said Callum.

"It spurred me on to help other people and to try to take them away from a bad space where they might experience that abuse.

"If we can put more people in a space that encourages them to be themselves, you see them enjoy themselves, play with a smile, and you've seen it tonight, people come out of their shells.

"That's what football is all about at the end of the day.

"It's nice to win things but football is so much more than that.

"Being part of these sessions does build confidence and gives you a sense of community.

"You meet so many people and you make friends.

"These sessions help make the most amazing memories for people.

"It's not just about what happens on the pitch but also off the pitch that is just as important.

"It provides mental stability for people who engage, as well.

"The best word to describe LGBTQ+ football is ‘family’.

"It does change your life.

"Everyone is here to put an arm around each other when it is needed whether it is or isn't football related.

"That is what it is about — it is a great family to be a part of.

"We want to get as many people from the LGBTQ+ community supported in playing and enjoying football like everybody else does.

"To give them the opportunity that perhaps they wouldn't feel comfortable enough to have is important and to see this session set up is just fantastic."

The programme gives many of the participants the chance to fall in love again with the beautiful game.
The programme gives many of the participants the chance to fall in love again with the beautiful game.

All officials at the session went out of their way to show a willingness to provide a safe and inclusive environment for everyone to be able to enjoy football.

"We are very conscious on a county, as well as a national level that homophobia and LGBTQ inclusion is a bit of an issue in football," said Jordan Mason, football development officer for disability and inclusion for Lincolnshire FA.

"People that identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community aren't as engaged or as involved and maybe don't feel as welcome in football as they could or should be.

Jordan Mason from the Lincolnshire FA goes up against Callum Prince in a training game.
Jordan Mason from the Lincolnshire FA goes up against Callum Prince in a training game.

"It is something that we have done a lot of work on, we have done quite a lot around educational awareness for grassroots football.

"We have delivered a few campaigns and events, ultimately it has now culminated in this session.

"This is important because it provides a safe space for people to play with people that are like them.

"It provides an opportunity for them outside of the traditional male and female-specific football.

"It is a little more welcoming, a little bit more friendly, and gives them recreational football while still offering that competitive football opportunity."

"These sessions provide an important space in the community for people that are traditionally less represented in football," said Zack Leader, LGBTQ+ Ambassador and media and marketing officer at Lincolnshire FA.

Zack Leader from Lincolnshire FA and Lincoln United football club runs the sessions.
Zack Leader from Lincolnshire FA and Lincoln United football club runs the sessions.

"Ultimately what we have created here is a safe space for people who maybe have been made to feel like football isn't for them.

"They can come down with a bunch of like-minded people and enjoy being around each other's company, enjoy football and enjoy playing.

"They can be their authentic selves without having to be discriminated against or having any issues that may be a potential barrier to somebody playing football or being around the game.

"For certain individuals, such as those who identify as trans or nonbinary, it has become difficult for them in society.

"I think sessions like this are more important now than perhaps they have ever been.

"This is because trans inclusion is featured massively in the news.

"It is a heavily discussed topic in society and it's being talked about in football as well.

"The FA are currently reviewing their policies and are consulting county FAs and other stakeholders as to how they think that should look.

"There was some worrying news just before Christmas when several MPs had written to the FA to try and ban trans people from football entirely.

"It is a very difficult situation that trans people could be facing in football.

"Sessions like this are monumentally important, they can come down, play football, and be themselves without having to hide part of their identity.

"It is important for members of the LGBTQ+ community to be able to come down, enjoy each other's company, have fun, and have a laugh because that is the ultimate goal.

"We are breaking down those barriers and it is low commitment so they can come as often or as infrequently as they want, it is a bit of a safe haven for them.

The group start their warm up session.
The group start their warm up session.

"The first session is free and then there is a weekly fee of £3 per person.

"Initially we did a taster session that got a lot of positive feedback.

"We had to see if there was a demand for it. It has never been done in Lincolnshire before so it was unknown territory.

"Originally it was a Lincolnshire FA programme but now it is headed up by football club Lincoln United.

“We are really grateful to the club and the people at Lincoln United for getting behind us with this programme.”

He said numbers are growing and feels like the early days of the programme show there is a demand. He added: "It is non-competitive so we are trying to make sure everyone has a good time, wants to keep coming down and either find their love of football again or fall in love with the game for the first time.

"I've had issues with homophobia in the past within football.

"When you are involved in sessions like this you feel straight at home when you walk in and that you instantly belong.

"You see someone over there who is playing amazing and you think wow, they are just like me.

"Representation is more important than ever.

Participants travelled from Long Eaton, Leicester and parts of Lincolnshire for the session.
Participants travelled from Long Eaton, Leicester and parts of Lincolnshire for the session.

"Lincolnshire has never really had this before, in Nottinghamshire you have the Nottingham Lions who are over an hour away from here.

"Leicestershire has Leicester Wildcats. So, we have these LGBTQ+ football organisations in surrounding areas but we didn't have that in Lincolnshire.

"I felt like this was a massive shame and Lincolnshire needed this opportunity.

"We are an ever-growing, increasingly diverse society — football is that way as well.

"People think football is a very masculine game and is deep-rooted in its ways but, ultimately, football is for all.

"Opportunities like this are really important and need to be more accessible so people don't have to travel long distances to get involved.

Zack said that they are hoping to roll out the programme in other areas across the county.

"The more options there are for the LGBTQ+ community, the better," said Zack.

"There are programmes from Cornwall to Newcastle, up into Scotland, and over in Wales."

"Great strides are being made to make football as inclusive as possible. We are hoping that eventually we can field a competitive team but it is early days.”

Kate Jackson travels from Long Eaton in Derbyshire to attend the sessions regularly and has been involved from day one.

"It is a chance to get fit, have fun playing football, bond with members of the community, and meet new people," said Kate who encouraged others to get involved.

Kate Jackson travels 50 miles each way to attend the programme and has ben involved since the start.
Kate Jackson travels 50 miles each way to attend the programme and has ben involved since the start.

"I have two jobs back home so I don't have a huge amount of time but everyone is really friendly and welcoming.

"It's why I keep coming back and why I travel fifty miles regularly to play a game I love and meet new people.

"I encourage people to get involved and to have a go.

“It is like everything in life, you have to take a chance and these sessions are amazing.

"Everyone here has made a big decision at some point in their life so by comparison deciding to come and play football isn't as big a decision."

"There is a real gap that is being filled here nicely as it provides a more local club for people in Lincolnshire," added Callum.

"This will help bring more people into the fold and it is a real leading light in the area.

"We all share one common thing and that is our love of the beautiful game so why shouldn't everyone be able to take part and enjoy that?"

What do you think? Would you like to see these sessions running right across the county? Tell us your views in the comments below...



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