“I quit football because of homophobia – then I discovered the London Titans”

Three Titans players pose at Stamford Bridge
Josh Day (centre) gave up football for homophobic abuse but started playing again after discovering Soho FC and then the London Titans.

Managing and playing for the London Titans means a lot to me. Over the years the club has built a reputation as one of the largest, if not the largest, LGBTQ+ friendly football teams in the UK.

The London Titans were formed in 2005 when a bunch of buddies got together to play soccer, and since then the club has grown to almost 80 players.

We are based in Barnes and have four teams playing in different leagues. Our first team plays in the Middlesex County Football League while we have two other teams that play in the London Unity League which is an LGBTQ+ friendly league. We also have a fourth team that competes in the Gay Football Supporters’ Network national championship, with matches taking place across the UK. We regularly participate in tournaments around the world, including Argentina, USA and Finland.

I’m originally from Barnsley and played football growing up. I did this under the pretense of being in the closet as I never felt it was possible to be both gay and a footballer. I constantly heard homophobic insults among my friends and on the pitch, which made me very uncomfortable.

The Titans play in the yellow jersey against a team in red
“I played for Soho FC where I first discovered the London Titans. They were known in the league to be very social but also remained competitive.”

I moved to London in 2012 and after several incidents of homophobia on my university football team I decided to stop playing football for the first time in my life. Almost two years later I stumbled upon Soho FC, found out about the London Unity League – and jumped at the chance to play in an LGBTQ+ league.

I played for Soho FC where I first discovered the London Titans. The Titans were known within the league to be very sociable, but also remained competitive. I remember seeing them at the World Out Games in Miami with two teams and having loads of fun and I just wanted to be a part of it.

I play as a forward for our first team and currently manage one of our Sunday League teams so it can get quite busy. I spend most of my weekends playing soccer, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve been with the Titans for five years now and I’ve loved every second of it.

A group of players in yellow stripes holding different placards
“The rise of LGBTQ+ clubs across London and the UK in general is so encouraging and incredible to watch.”

“You’re never far from an LGBTQ+ football team in London”

As a London-based team, we recruit a lot of players who, like me, live far away from their families. I’ve had several conversations with players over the years where we’ve expressed that the club is our second family. Here we feel safe, understood and loved. I think that goes down well with a lot of people, because unfortunately these things are not always a matter of course in our community. The club welcomes everyone, regardless of sexuality, gender, age, race or ethnicity, and we proudly champion diversity.

The rise of LGBTQ+ clubs across London and the UK in general is so encouraging and incredible to watch. Having quit football myself for fear of playing for a “straight” team, it’s really heartwarming to know other players don’t have to make that choice.

There are around 10 LGBTQ+ friendly football teams across London so you’re never far from one of us no matter where you live. Being able to practice the sport you love without secrets or fear is a feeling I can’t really put into words. We spend so much of our lives hiding, so it’s so liberating to have this chance to be 100% yourself.

A team in white and black stripes raise their arms in celebration
“Seemingly small gains have a global impact.”

“It’s going to take a long time to get football to a place where players feel comfortable being openly LGBTQ+.”

But while a lot of good work is being done to address homophobia in football, at times it can feel like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back.

Not a week goes by without homophobic news in football. The recent World Cup in Qatar has led to a lot of discussion within our club, but also worldwide, and can cost a lot of energy. I think that’s why visibility and good news like the recent coming out of Blackpool’s Jake Daniels and Bonnyrigg Rose’s Zander Murray are so important.

A young man in an English top taking a picture of himself in the mirror
“Although there is a lot of good work being done in football to counter homophobia, sometimes it feels like we’re taking one step forward and two steps back.”

I think we all know it’s going to take a long time to get football to a place where players feel comfortable being openly LGBTQ+, but these seemingly small wins have a global impact.

We still occasionally receive homophobic abuse during our FA member league matches and it’s difficult to gauge how best to deal with it. On the one hand, you want to stop playing and hope that by making a collective decision to end the game, you will earn a point. But on the other hand, we all love to play football and just want to keep going. By quitting, it can sometimes feel like you’ve let them win. It’s difficult to deal with, but I hope that in the years to come we can take even bigger steps to make football a safer place for everyone, players and fans. I think grassroots football and the growth of the London Unity League are a big part of that.

A team in yellow shirts poses in a group
“We have players of all skill levels and there is no ranking whatsoever.”

“You don’t just join a football club, you join a new family”

I’ve had some incredible times during my years with the Titans. In terms of football, it was a personal highlight to play at Stamford Bridge in 2021 as part of a partnership between ProDirect and Nike Football. I’ve been a Chelsea fan all my life and I never dreamed of playing at any stadium let alone Stamford Bridge. It was an incredible experience for all of us and something we will never forget.

One of the regular Titans highlights of the year is RVT Sports Day, where we join a team and raise money for LGBT Hero, an incredible charity that provides health and wellbeing to the LGBTQ+ community. Every year we come up with a fun theme and have become known as a comedy team! In 2022, we dressed up as characters known to have been wronged or made dirty. You haven’t lived until you’ve cheered for the Peru Two in a sack race or seen Rebekah Vardy’s phone roll backwards through the 50-yard mince.

Josh walks away from the camera in his yellow coat
“I never thought I would ever play at any stadium, let alone Stamford Bridge.”

I would encourage anyone who loves football to get in touch with the London Titans. We have players of all skill levels and there is no rating. We have players who just join us to keep fit, make new friends and try football for the first time. You don’t just join a football club; You are joining a new family and I can guarantee it will be one of the best decisions you will ever make.

London Herald