On Transgender Day of Visibility — March 31 — an interesting fixture in the world of soccer will take place. A competitive league side from Dulwich Hamlet FC will meet in a friendly against a squad made up entirely of transgender women, perhaps the first in the history of the game, representing TRUK United FC.
The match will be played on Dulwich Hamlet’s home pitch, nestled in the south of metropolitan London.
Yes, you read that right. This match will be played in the United Kingdom, aka TERF Island. The home of the Daily Mail, J.K. Rowling, and Kellie Jay Keen (aka Posie Parker), who flew across the Atlantic to boo and hiss at swimmer Lia Thomas just because she is trans.
The person who brought this match together hopes this historic squad, and a supportive opponent in Dulwich Hamlet, may help change some hearts and minds in what many trans people see as an environment more on par with a totalitarian nation instead of a democratic one.
“We’ve never had an eleven on the pitch consisting solely of trans women,” team founder/manager Lucy Clark said. “Well let’s right that wrong and create a little bit of history and show that football is for everyone, even if you are transgender.”
Clark is no stranger to firsts. In 2018, she became the first transgender person in the world to be licensed as a soccer official by a national governing body. At the start of that year’s competitive season, she became the first transgender person to officiate a professional match.
In 2019, she founded Trans Radio UK, an online radio station dedicated to the trans community in the UK and around the world. The soccer team was organized in 2021 as a mixed squad of transgender people.
“The team came about because we had a lot of people contacting me saying, ‘I want to play football but there is no team for me’,” Clark said in an interview on the Trans Sporter Room podcast. “A lot of players were a bit wary and a bit nervous about going down to join a team, so I thought I would just create a team that would be inclusive for everyone. So now no one can say that there isn’t a team for them.”
TRUK United’s first game as a team was the opening round of the National Affinity Cup for charity teams last year. The team lost in the opening round, 6-3, but showed a lot of competitive spark. Much of that spark was rooted in a group of skilled female players.
That fact gave the team manager the idea that led to this upcoming match. Clark sent out the call across Britain seeking trans women with game, and players from Scotland to Wales answered. What developed was a side that comes from a hodgepodge of experiences from the streets to the universities, to the upper tiers of the game.
“I was invited to play in the Affinity Cup and I jumped at the chance,” TRUK United midfielder-striker Samantha Walker exclaimed. “Injuries had kept me out of playing regular football for a while and I was just so excited to get back on a the pitch! The opportunity to play for a side that stood for full inclusion wasn't an opportunity I was going to miss!”
Walker, perhaps TRUK United’s most skilled player, was an upper-tier prospect as a teen. Struggles with her gender identity led her to leave an academy stint with Watford at age 17.
The years after saw her out of the game and in turmoil until she began her transition at age 26. While working through transition and she wanted to return to the game, but found it difficult to find a place in women’s soccer.
“I tried playing ladies’ football when I came out but when you first transition you don’t necessarily look the part, and I found there was a little bit of hostility towards me,” she said to BBC Sport in 2019. “I was frequently called by the wrong pronouns, occasionally with a tone of malice.”
Inclusive teams were her oasis in a desert. Walker played with two such teams and was a standout member of each. The FA’s policies on trans participation gave her a pathway that led to a contract for a team in the third tier of the women’s game in 2020.
Despite being a target of the gripes and snipes that British transphobia is known for, Walker sees every match she plays as a teaching moment.
“Sensationalised stories and ‘what ifs’ have been utilized to exclude players who are trans.” she said. “The rhetoric that we are never welcome is constantly pushed. To have a women’s side play us, out of choice, gives us an opportunity to demonstrate that there is a way we can include the small number of trans people that play football in the UK without all the misinformation and fear-mongering.”
Such thoughts are echoed by Natalie Washington. When she’s not an attacking fullback for TRUK United, she is the outspoken campaign lead for Football v. Transphobia. The effort has made headway for inclusion from the grassroots level of the sport to the lofty, legendary clubs of the English Premier League.
To Washington, lacing up the boots and pressing forward Thursday night is another part of the campaign.
The matchup has the makings of a sports movie. Cohesive, synchronized Dulwich Hamlet versus rag-tag, underdog TRUK United. To Clark, the final result is secondary. The happy ending is in a history-making team showing up, and the message they seek to send to their country as a whole by doing so.
“Football was a lifesaver for me. If it wasn’t for football I may not be here talking to you today” Clark noted. “This is so great because this team has already built a community within ourselves where it going to get people playing football and that there is a safe space for them to play.”
Lucy Clark and Natalie Washington said ever more about this history making match on this week’s edition of the Trans Sporter Room. They also touched the realities of being trans in Britain, how the Lia Thomas saga is a thing there, and how referee Lucy Clark would have called one of the most bitter pills for England in FIFA World Cup history. Checkout the latest edition of the Trans Sporter Room on Megaphone, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Apple podcasts, and many other platforms for Outsports podcasts as well.