"The best teams are those bonded by empathy"

This LGBTQ+ History Month, Jen Beattie teamed up with grassroots team Wonderkid FC to share what it means to find an inclusive community in football.

The resulting film features conversations around how football plays an integral part in the grassroots game as a safe space for aspiring players and the local community.

Wonderkid FC are a local London team founded by Maria Sihaloho and her partner Rhys who describe themselves as “a bunch of queers and allies, brought together by a film that raised awareness about homophobia in football in the UK. We are goalkeepers, filmmakers, wingbacks, art directors, strikers and producers."

The club was born out of a short film created to highlight homophobia in the game: "We came together incidentally, through a tweet mistaking Rhys’ film project as a football team which invited us to a tournament. Taking the mishap as an opportunity, we got a team together and were bonded by the film’s premise: be yourself.

"Trophy wins, friendships, professional ventures, relationships and even babies have been born out of the WKFC fam. None of this would have happened if we didn’t have such an open and inclusive dialogue with each other."

Keen to know more about Wonderkid FC, Jen Beattie headed down to one of their training sessions in Hackney to discover how transformational a sense of belonging can be at every level of football. 

"It feels amazing, to be honest. Wonderkid is the first time I've actually been part of a group of people who identify as LGBTQ+ or are allies. It's nice because we all get to socialise together as well - I hadn't had that anywhere else before."

"I honestly think that no matter what level, it's that feel-good factor of playing with your mates," said Jen. "There's something special about sport bringing people together. Even at Arsenal, some of them are my best mates as well. We spend so much time off the pitch together and it's just fun. Hopefully, the game will we'll never ever lose that."

For the members of Wonderkid FC, LGBTQ+ History Month is the perfect opportunity to recognise and reflect on the bravery of the past that ensures safety and community in the present: "The fact that we have this team is amazing. But it's so important to remember the things that people have done to get us to this point."

"We’re obviously not about leaving who you ‘are’ outside the dressing room. We know that the best teams out there are the ones bonded by empathy.”

To hear more of Jen and Wonderkid FC's stories, hit play on the film above.

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