The monumental televised success of England at the 2022 Women’s Euros inspired many women and non-binary people to have a kick-about, but the lack of appropriate community pitch spaces is posing a challenge for inclusive grassroots football teams in London.
Ellie Levitt, 30, co-founded Brockwell United in 2017 with friends after struggling to find a beginner-friendly team in London.
Following the Lionesses’ win, the Brixton-based ‘Swans’ received a huge number of messages from people looking for beginner-friendly football teams for women and non-binary people.
The demand led The Swans to hop between different training pitches across east London in an attempt to find one that was appropriate, safe and not block-booked months in advance.
Levitt said: “We feel like it’s our duty to cater for the demand that’s out there for women’s football and make a space for the people who want to be there.”
However, the booking system for pitches creates a barrier by putting women’s teams at the bottom of a waiting list.
This issue is representative of the historic exclusion of women in football after the 50-year FA ban which stunted the growth of the women’s game and branded football as a ‘boys only’ club.
Levitt added: “It never even struck my mind that I could play, because it seemed inaccessible. You hear lads down the pub about how women’s football isn’t as impressive – I don’t think they realise that the women are 50 years behind.”
After the popularity of the Euros, the government announced that grassroots facilities in and around each of the Lionesses’ respective hometowns will be named after players, in honour of their achievements.
This is part of its £230-million investment to build or improve 8,000 local football and multi-sport facilities by 2025.
This pledge to invest in local facilities holds the potential to increase the number of accessible spaces available for female and non-binary footballers.
Ellie Guedella, 46, coach of fan-owned football club Clapton Community FC, explained how access to grassroots football presents an opportunity to create a community of like-minded players that play for the love of the game.
Guedella said: “The impact of grassroots football is huge on any community, because when people come together in that healthy way, great stuff happens.
“In terms of mental and physical health, it gives everyone a sense of belonging.
“I’m 46 but my peer group are playing Super Five against women who are the same age as my daughter. We can’t run like they can run – but we can be clever. I know exactly where my teammates will be on the pitch.”
Jo Pearson, 37, who helped found LGBTQ+ friendly football team Weavertown FC, added how inclusive access is important for the future of football.
Pearson said: “Football is for everyone. You can just chuck your jumpers on the floor and have a kick-about – that’s how easy it is to play.
“As soon as you start introducing stuff that makes it hard for certain people to access it, the game is ruined.”
The promised government investment, coupled with continued media coverage of women’s professional football– and powered by the enthusiasm and community spirit engendered by people keen to just get out on a pitch and play – makes the future of the sport for female and non-binary players look a lot more accessible.
As long as they do not have to rely on just jumpers for goalposts.
Feature image by Lucien Phoenix