Zander Murray, Mikey Connor, Lailah Muscat and Georgia Robert, speaking at Football Pride at Chelsea FC in London | Sam Rees

On Pride weekend in London, under the East Stand at Chelsea FC’s famous Stamford Bridge stadium, the world’s favorite sport showed its true colors — and not just the rainbow ones.

This was Football Pride, an all-day event fully loaded for LGBTQ people and active allies, unapologetically creating space on and off the pitch.

Now in its second year and sponsored by major organizations including England’s Football Assn., the event’s packed program ranged from a heartwarming piece of theater about a grassroots queer soccer team to a candid conversation with gay footballers about their love lives.

Fans arrived in their club jerseys and a giant video wall provided a vibrant blue backdrop, in a venue decorated with Intersex-Inclusive Progress flags.

Ever since I had the chance to cross the pond and attend Outsports Pride get-togethers in New York City and Los Angeles, I’d wanted to bring a similar celebration to British shores.

When the world shut down in 2020, Football v Homophobia had the brainwave to create a virtual festival, with bold branding and a fiery commitment to activism. It was a high point in a summer that had suddenly been stripped of the men’s Euros and Olympic Games. 

Three years later, having joined the FvH campaign team, I helped to deliver Football Pride as an in-person event in Manchester in August 2023.

Five out gay and bi players and match officials in the men’s game teamed up to share their experiences; a short film about a voguing footballer drawn to the ballroom captivated the audience; and LGBTQ fans and grassroots players described how their groups and clubs were thriving despite a pushback on visibility fuelled by toxic social media.

This year, we got to carve out an even queerer corner, in large part due to the generosity of the Chelsea Foundation, the Premier League club’s official charity.

More than 150 people enjoyed spoken-word performances that tugged at our heartstrings before tickling our funny bones, as well as powerful panel chats on the future of campaigning, the joy within community clubs and the Pride potential of the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

An unexpected bonus for attendees was the European premiere of “Ripe!” — a short film that begins with a broken arm on a Spanish soccer pitch before blooming into a dreamy summer romance.

One of the film’s executive producers is USWNT World Cup winner Kelley O’Hara and it’s already starting its own trophy haul, with success at the Tribeca and Provincetown festivals. Search it out on the festival circuit. 

After a halftime break in full view of the freshly relaid Stamford Bridge pitch, the cultural offering was “Pitch” by November Theatre.

Sharply written, slickly performed and sprinkled with references to touchstone football moments like Keira Knightley’s breakthrough role in “Bend It Like Beckham” and Arsenal’s Invincibles season of 2003-24, the production romped right into the audience’s affections from the off.

Another surefire crowdpleaser was the chat between players Georgia Robert and Lailah Muscat, both recently seen on British TV dating show “I Kissed A Girl”; referee Mikey Connor, from “I Kissed A Boy” which recently dropped on U.S. streaming service Hulu; and Zander Murray, who was one of only six out gay pro footballers in the men’s game anywhere in the world last season. 

Murray has just hung up his boots, having decided to dedicate himself to delivering the inclusive education workshops he never had growing up but unknowingly needed so much.

“I was naive to this amazing community in football,” he told broadcaster Becky Taylor-Gill, moderating the panel. “I had no idea.

“What I’ve learned is that people need to see visibility and role models so I’m going to try and help as many of those people as I can.”

It was one of many comments during the day that brought an impromptu burst of applause. There were plenty of laughs too, as Taylor-Gill coaxed gossip out of her panelists and even managed to extract a couple of embarrassing memories too.

Ultimately, this was a glimpse of how the sport could be much friendlier for everyone, if only it could silence the ugly chants and mute the online trolls.

“We need more queerness, more fun,” said Taylor-Gill. “It just makes everything more interesting, doesn’t it?”

And a game that’s more interesting is more beautiful too, no matter what they say. At a time when words are increasingly weaponized to bring us down, Football Pride was a wonderful celebration — and one that will return.