Grassroots football: A place for women to just ‘be’

Date published: Friday 2nd April 2021 10:41 - Sarah Winterburn

Romance FC

“There’s something quite romantic about it; this time last year was taken away from us, that wonderful move into spring, the days are getting longer, you can train in the park in the evening, that really beautiful period that happens every year was taken away from us.

“It’s quite wonderful how this lines up with daylight saving, spring, the weather’s getting better, we’re allowed to play football. It feels quite dreamy.”

If you could choose any footballer to describe this week’s glorious return of grassroots football, you should always choose a footballer from Romance FC, where poetry and politics are interwoven with football to make a powerful mixture of the simple and the simply marvellous.

This is the football club with opportunity and community at the centre of its ethos, but this week is about little more than the joy of kicking a football with your friends, missed like family during these long winter months.

“It’s a huge thing that has been missing in terms of the whole social and physical aspect of football,” says founder member and current player-manager Trisha Lewis. “Running around and the feeling of the wind on your skin. Although people are excited to go to pubs and socialise, I think it’s the feeling people get from playing football that’s really been missed.

“We have been going out to train in pairs and hearing the ping of the football and feeling that sweet spot when you hit the ball right, you realise 1) how much you love it and 2) how much you’ve missed it.”

Romance FC is more than just a football club; it’s a collective. It’s a place to share work opportunities, a place to influence young women, a place to make friends, a place to challenge perceptions, but for now, just being a place where you can finally meet up and play football is its most important function.

“Most people are giddy; most people are cautiously excited,” says Karoline Anderson. “We can finally see the light and everything is starting to re-open, not just football. People are excited, but there is a level of anxiety. Have I lost my social skills? The good thing about football is you can have a run-around without that pressure.

“The idea of sitting down and having social interaction is a little bit intimidating because it hasn’t happened in so long, but being outside and physically active is a great way to ease back into life.”

Romance FC are part of the adidas Football Collective, launched in October 2020 to support local community initiatives, bringing together individuals, organisations and club partners around the world that share the brand’s belief that football has the power to change lives.

Though the aFC, adidas aim to break down barriers and create opportunities, opening up the game for everyone, everywhere.

That is exactly the mission Romance FC will get back to once those first balls have been kicked in anger – not just to win football matches but to create opportunities for women and non-binary folks within and outside of football. It’s a football club, but not as you know it.

“We are less of a fixed football club because we don’t just play football. We do everything in terms of production, events, panel discussions; we’re active in terms of our voices and our skill sets,” explains Lewis. “We use our skills from our professional lives to help out not just the team but the wider community too.

Trisha Lewis Romance FC

“If somebody needs a portrait, we link them up with a photographer. If somebody needs editing expertise or legal advice, we do all we can to help. We want to grow our community, not just within football but with women, because we found that with a lot of work that we do, it’s just not being shared.

“Anything we can do to support others, whether it’s just getting their name out there or getting paid work, then that’s what we do. It goes beyond football. Football is the driving force that brought us together, but from there we branch out and develop a more joined-up community.

“The main thing I noticed was the need for safe social spaces for women. I think it has always been difficult for women to find social circles outside of work or university friends. More teams are popping up because, well, where else can you meet other great women where you can just ‘be’ and it’s nothing more than that?

“Whether it be basketball, running or football, clubs offer something other than the safety of the same group of friends that might have drifted apart. Sometimes you need to change it up, and where can I do that without actively going to scout out new friends?”

Romance FC huddle

Friendship is clearly at the heart of Romance FC, with both women talking about the club offering the kind of consistent relationship that can be hard to find, particularly in London. This is a “social life you don’t need to organise”. And you don’t even have to be a footballer to join the family.

“There are people who want to be involved but don’t want to play football,” says Anderson. “They might just come to watch or just want to come to social events. They are friends of Romance and that’s maybe how we are a little bit different.

“There are opportunities to be part of the community even if you are injured or don’t want to play football. They can still get involved in the collaborative side. Football is the connector and there are not a lot of other scenarios where you can meet people regularly, outside of work.

“We’re a community for the long haul. If somebody is going through some growth or struggling, we’re quite stubborn in saying ‘we’re still here, we’re still your team’ and I think there is an incredible power in that. Where other relationships may have been fleeting, we are actually a constant.

“Everybody has opportunities to learn, to make mistakes and then to fix things. I think that’s something quite transformative, that even if your circumstances change, football can be a constant.”

That is a theme that runs through this club – that their responsibility to each other and to the wider community does not end when the final whistle blows.

“You don’t cut off family just because they have decided to change career paths. It’s important to keep everybody engaged who wants to be engaged. We still use our extended family members for insight,” explains Lewis.

“We have a duty to be role models and want to show young girls that there are so many aspects to the game that don’t just involve playing. We want to show them if they don’t make it into professional football as a player, they can go into journalism, film-making, presenting, whatever. Those are things that I don’t think are encouraged enough, especially with players who fall out of the game through injury. We need to be saying to them ‘there’s still a place for you in football’.”

Romance FC laughing

In more social times, Romance FC run events aimed at mobilising women and non-binary folks on and off the football pitch. Their ambition is boundless, typified by the enthusiasm with which they greet an invitation to dream big.

“I would have always loved to see a grassroots version of a Euros – a women’s competition actually focused on grassroots talent,” says Lewis. “We know from events we run just how many talented teams there are out there and how much of an impact they are making on their communities.

“It would be great to put them on a more elevated platform and also give those players an opportunity to get into national teams and professional teams. I have seen some phenomenal players and you want to ask ‘where have you been? Why aren’t I seeing more players like you out there?’ I don’t know how scouting works in the women’s game, but I know it is missing some extraordinary footballers.”

And these women should know; they are experts in the extraordinary.

Grassroots football is back as of March 29 and we’re celebrating its return with adidas and the adidas Football Collective, a movement united in the belief that football has the power to change lives for the better.

The new adidas Superlative pack is available from www.adidas.co.uk/football-shoes

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