Managing and playing for the London Titans means a lot to me. Over the years the club has built its reputation as one of, if not the, biggest LGBTQ+ friendly football teams in the UK.
London Titans were formed back in 2005, when a few mates got together for a kick-about, and from there the club has grown its diverse membership to almost 80 players.
Based in Barnes, we have four teams playing across different leagues. Our first team plays in the Middlesex County Football League, while we have two other teams that play in the London Unity League, an LGBTQ+ friendly league. We also have a fourth team that plays in the national Gay Football Supporters' Network Championship, with games taking place around the UK. We regularly participate in tournaments around the world, including Argentina, the USA and Finland.
I’m originally from Barnsley, and played football throughout my childhood and teenage years. I did this through the guise of being in the closet, as I never felt like it was possible to be both gay and a footballer. Among my friends and on the pitch, I'd constantly hear homophobic slurs which made me feel very uncomfortable.
I moved to London in 2012, and after various incidents of homophobia in my university football team, I decided to stop playing football for the first time in my life. Almost two years later, I stumbled upon Soho FC, learnt of the London Unity League — and jumped at the chance to play in an LGBTQ+ league.
It was playing for Soho FC where I first discovered the London Titans. The Titans were known within the league as being very sociable, while also remaining competitive. I remember seeing them at the World Out Games in Miami with two squads and having loads of fun, and I just wanted to be a part of that.
I play as a striker for our first team, and currently manage of one of our Sunday League teams, so it can be pretty full on. Most of my weekends are taken up by football but I wouldn't want it any other way. I've been with the Titans for five years now and loved every second of it.
"You're never far from an LGBTQ+ football team in London"
Being a London based team, we recruit a lot of players who, like myself, live away from their families. I've had multiple discussions with players over the years where we have expressed how the club is our second family. It's where we feel safe, understood and loved. I think that resonates with a lot of people because sadly those things aren't always a given within our community. The club welcomes anyone no matter of sexuality, gender, age, race or ethnicity and we proudly champion diversity.
The rise of LGBTQ+ clubs across London, and the UK in general, is so encouraging and incredible to see. Having quit football myself through fear of playing for a 'straight' team, it’s genuinely so heart-warming to know other players shouldn't need to make that decision.
There's around 10 LGBTQ+ friendly football teams dotted around London so wherever you live you're never far from one of us. Being able to play the sport you love, with no secrets or fear, is a feeling I can't really put into words. We spend so much of our life hiding, so having that chance to be 100% yourself is so liberating.
"It's going to take a long time to get football to a place where players feel comfortable being openly LGBTQ+"
But while there is a lot of good work being done to face up to homophobia in football, it can sometimes feel like we're taking one step forward and two steps back.
Not a week goes by without some level of homophobic news story within football. The recent world cup in Qatar led to a lot of discussions within our club, but also worldwide, and it can take a lot of your energy. I think that's why visibility and good news stories such as the recent coming out of Blackpool's Jake Daniels and Zander Murray of Bonnyrigg Rose are so important.
I think we all know it's going to take a long time to get football to a place where players feel comfortable being openly LGBTQ+ but these seemingly small wins have a global impact.
We still occasionally receive homophobic abuse during our FA affiliated league matches and it's hard to weigh up how best to deal with it. On one hand you want to stop playing and hope that by making a collective decision to end the game you'll make a point. But on the other hand, we all love playing football and just want to get on with it. By stopping, it can sometimes feel like you've let them win. It's difficult to deal with but I'm hopeful that we can take even bigger strides over the next couple of years to help make football a safe space for everyone, players and fans. I believe that grassroots level football, and the growth of the London Unity League, have a huge part to play in that.
"You're not just joining a football club; you're joining a new family"
I've had some incredible times during my years with the Titans. Purely from a football angle, a personal highlight was playing at Stamford Bridge in 2021 as part of a ProDirect and Nike Football partnership game. I've been a Chelsea fan my whole life and never dreamt that I would ever play in any stadium, never mind Stamford Bridge. It was an unbelievable experience for all of us and something we'll never forget.
One of the regular Titans highlights of the year is the RVT Sports Day, where we enter a team and raise money for LGBT Hero, an incredible charity providing health and wellbeing support to the LGBTQ+ community. Each year we come up with a fun theme and have become known as the comedy team! 2022 saw us dress up as famously wronged or 'done dirty' characters. You haven't lived until you’ve cheered on the Peru Two in a sack race or witnessed Rebekah Vardy's phone backwards rolling her way through the 50m mince.
I would encourage anyone who loves football to get in touch with the London Titans. We have players of all abilities and there's no judgement whatsoever. We have players who join us simply to keep fit, make new friends, and try football out for the first time. You're not just joining a football club; you're joining a new family and I can guarantee it'll be one of the best decisions you'll ever make.