LGBTQ+ Pride Month: Lia Walti visits Clubs United

To celebrate Pride month, we're highlighting the individuals, communities and initiatives that champion the LGBTQ+ community within our game.  

Earlier in June, Lia Walti paid a visit to Clubs United, an LGBTQ+ inclusive, grassroots football league, created to provide a safe space for all cis, trans and gender non-conforming identities. 

Lia met Hannah, Rowan, Betty and Sarah for a conversation on football and identity, the ongoing meaning of Pride, and how Clubs United has allowed them to be themselves whilst playing the game they love.

“When doors are open at the very base, it just opens those doors across the whole spectrum," said Hannah, the league's founder. "I do hope that by talking about these spaces and these teams, a lot more people now come forward and know that this sport is for them.”

"It's really important that everyone feels included, everybody feels a part of us, of something, of Arsenal," said Lia. "But also, for me in general, in life, I think it's important to make people feel welcome no matter who they are, who they love, or where they're from." 

To watch the film and hear more from Lia and the grassroots players, click the play button above. 


Pride in the Gunners: A club for the community

For LGBTQ+ Pride Month, journalist and club supporter Zoya Raza-Sheikh explains what makes supporting Arsenal so special.

Pride isn’t always about the colours you wear – it’s the character you hold, the generosity you pay forward and the camaraderie that unites us. At The Arsenal, the spirit of community is everywhere: the rainbow corner flags discreetly sitting pitch side, the small huddles of young women applauding their skipper for wearing an LGBTQIA+ armband to fans embracing everyone — of all identities and backgrounds – at a Gooner game. After all, football is for everyone. 

Growing up in the midlands, my allegiance (as a Notts native) fell with Forest. It’s a club I’ll hold a lot of admiration for. But, when I turned 23, things changed – I moved to London. As if it were meant to be, I ended up in the buzzing heart of Finsbury Park; a city zone that’s never short of football fans or multiculturalism. Here, I found a sense of self as I started my next steps in a new area. Finsbury Park quickly began to make sense. 

I learned two things: avoid the big Tesco at night and, more often than not, the streets will be swarmed with bright red Arsenal home kits. Kids will proudly wear footie shirts and die-hard fans will pour out The Faltering Fullback leading chants while heading towards the tube station. It was an unmistakable atmosphere, one that added atmosphere to sweltering hot city summers and the coldest of winter weeknights. Either way, the Gooners would show up, time and again. 

As my allegiance to North London grew so did my calling to Arsenal. The club’s ethos and its magical moments of football were captivating. Whether it’s the men’s or women’s team, the united front of the club was admirable, powerful even. So as I settled into the city, I became fascinated by how Arsenal shaped its community. From uplifting young talent to making games more inclusive, the club has continued to stand strong on its core values. 

Zoya and Gunnersaurus pose together on the Arsenal float at Pride in London 2024

Zoya and Gunnersaurus pose together on the Arsenal float at Pride in London 2024

Its players, across both teams, speak up for what’s right, whether addressing racism in the game or the acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people on and off the pitch. There’s an innovative resilience when it comes to this club, our club, that teaches us all to keep going, to keep trying. Whether watching Leah Williamson coach her team through a tight second half or golden boy Saka bringing up the scoreline when we need it most, it’s always a privilege to wear the club’s kit and to advocate for their wins.

For some, vouching for a favourite team might seem outlandish, but these sporting monoliths offer more than entertaining matches –  they invest in our communities. Arsenal has regularly run impactful campaigns like No More Red, an initiative which tackles youth violence on the streets of London, Similarly, the club has vocally supported the visibility of South Asian girls in the game. But it doesn’t end there.

Arsenal takes it further and willingly broaches subjects that football culture often struggles with like Pride and inclusivity. Showing up for a community can involve wearing a ‘One Love’ armband but it’s also much more than that, and Arsenal lived up to that. From Lia Walti meeting with Clubs United, an LGBTQIA+ grassroots league, to the Gunners' regular Pride Month initiatives, Arsenal sees all fans for who they are.

So, it doesn’t matter whether you show up as a newbie donning a rainbow scarf or if you’re an experienced fan with the iconic 2005/06 maroon home kit, you have equal standing at an Arsenal game. At times when football can feel uninviting or inaccessible, Arsenal remind me of how differently a game can be led. They’re a club willing to change, one driving to be more inclusive and representative, even if that means acknowledging a need for greater diversity on their women’s team or greater medical care when it comes to ACL injuries. 

After all, Arsenal’s commitment to doing better is what sets them apart. After all, what is it that makes this club so special? Sure, they have an exciting stadium atmosphere, one brought to life by vibrant, witty chants and colourful kits. It’s a club that has become much more than its community, it’s a culture that lets us all be. Whether at the Emirates Stadium or Meadow Park, it’s a space that welcomes you to bring your own individuality, no matter what. It’s a club where you can hold hands with whoever you want to in the stands. 

It’s a home that pays ode to its city youth, aspiring players and dedicated fans. Arsenal stands for pride; it’s a red army that refuses to relent. Its united teams push for something greater than trophies and tournament titles – it’s a club that backs its community and, to me, that’s what being a Gooner is about. 

Words by Zoya Raza-Sheikh 

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