18 May 2022
by Sophie Page
There can't be many football clubs that were formed as the outcome of a bet. That's how Brockwell United FC began, and five years later we're still having fun – but we're deadly serious about providing opportunities for marginalised people to play the game.
It began in 2017 with husband-and-wife team Andrew and Ximene. Ximene had struggled to find a truly beginner-friendly football team, so they joked about starting their own. Andrew made a bet: if Ximene could get a team together within two weeks, he would coach. Good marketing, great friends and trusting local players meant that, to Andrew’s surprise, Brockwell United was born.
Meanwhile, I was looking for a team sport to play after giving up on the gym, which felt too much like a high-pressure, all-for-show environment. I tried mixed tag rugby, but that didn't work out either. The men barely passed to women and it felt odd that extra points would go to the team if a woman scored. In 2018 I joined Brockwell United and it was a breath of fresh air.
At that point the club was finding its feet and just getting started, but what was enshrined from an early stage was its welcoming and truly beginner-focused ethos. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t properly played before and that I didn’t really follow the Premier League – all that mattered was my enthusiasm to play and learn. There weren’t any judgements made and, if anything, we all apologised way too much!
This was at odds with my experience of football growing up. I went to a mixed primary and secondary school where football was never really seen as a sport for girls, and the stigma set in from a young age. In primary school, I remember a group of girls having to complain to the teachers as the boys weren’t allowing us to play in their match.
Secondary school was a little better – our school held a yearly mixed football tournament – but I felt out of my depth, self-conscious and, to be honest, scared! The pressure was on: if you were the reason your team lost, you would be the villain. There was at least a girls' football team, but damaging stereotypes and little encouragement from teachers meant I never considered joining it.
Brockwell United recognise that women and non-binary people have faced these extra barriers to enter the sport, so our ‘Removing Barriers to Entry’ commitment aims to make it easier for women and non-binary people to play. The commitment includes free spaces for those on Universal Credit and reserved spaces in the team for trans and non-binary people, people of colour and people living with a disability.
The club works around our players' busy personal and work schedules and doesn’t put pressure on players to attend a certain number of training sessions or games. We welcome children along to games and training. And we encourage players not to apologise for mistakes, as the club believes anyone can be, and has the right to be, a football player.
We have recently partnered with a local, Brixton-based social inclusion charity, the Baytree Centre. The Baytree Centre works to empower women and girls, turning their aspirations into reality, and we hope to run training sessions for their girls over the summer.
Over my time with Brockwell I’ve loved seeing the team develop from a group of 20 players to around 80, and being so oversubscribed that we have a waiting list. I think this is down to a lot of hard work from the team, but also down to the growth we’ve seen in the women’s game at a professional level. Visibility truly matters, and if women and non-binary people see themselves being represented and valued at a national level (think the England squad making it to the semi-finals of the Women’s World Cup 2019 and the historic BBC and Sky WSL deal) then you will see that slowly trickle down to grassroots level, although we still have a very long way to go for parity in the game.
I have also grown as a person while being part of the team. Joining the committee in 2019 as Social Media Manager, and then becoming Club Secretary, means I've gained skills beyond just football.
The club has created a community – which was particularly evident during the Covid-19 lockdowns, when that was taken away from us. As a committee, we came together to provide a series of lockdown activities including weekly exercise sessions and indoor training drills; webinars with influential football organisations and brands; and online socials. Who knew a murder mystery social was possible on Zoom?
We’re constantly learning and adapting to suit the needs of our growing team, which is why we are led by a group of dedicated volunteer committee members and a diversity and inclusion sub-group. We are also led by our Head Coach Rose and Assistant Coaches Becky and Grace.
We’ve seen the team play under the lights at Stamford Bridge, come second and third in an international friendly tournament and win our beginner’s league to get promoted to intermediate level. But it’s never been about winning. As one of our players highlighted after playing their first match with us: "It was the last game before Christmas and we had pitchside Prosecco and mince pies afterwards. I’ll always remember that game for so much more than the final score."
For me, it’s more than just being part of a football team. It’s the solidarity and the support system it provides. It’s seeing the joy on our players' faces and feeling a responsibility to deliver for them. It’s about completely switching off from whatever else is going on in your life – all that matters is supporting your team and playing your best.
To mark our fifth birthday recently we launched a brand new kit, sponsored by MOMA Foods and designed by Brixton-based illustrator Donatella Esposito. The kit celebrates how far we have come, representing the team spirit that's central to the club. It pays homage to the classic football shirts of the 90s with the collar and geometric shapes in the shorts. The running players are carefree and liberated – which we want all our players to feel when playing football. The crowds on the sleeve represent the supportive community and fans that come with grassroots football.
It was particularly important for us to use the kit launch to celebrate all things south-east London, from our sponsor through to having our very own player Lucien take the photos. We take pride in supporting our local businesses and community and couldn’t think of anywhere more fitting to take photos of the new kit than at the iconic Champion Hill, the home of Dulwich Hamlet FC.
I’m excited to see what’s next for Brockwell United and the women’s game generally. The Women’s Euros tournament hosted in England this summer will hopefully inspire the next generation of women and non-binary people to see this as a sport for them. We will be waiting with open arms.
• Sophie Page is Club Secretary at Brockwell United FC. To find out more or contact the club to suggest ideas or collaborations, visit the club's website, follow them on Twitter and Instagram, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
• If you'd like to share what you do with the Women in Football community and you could write a guest feature like this one, please email our Communications Manager Pete Green on email@example.com.
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