Robert Lawley

On the 8th May 2010, I thought my footballing life had peaked. There I was, in front of my nans TV replaying over and over Jermaine Beckford, the striker who I had seen playing down the road from my house at Wealdstone F.C scoring for fun in front of crowds of 200, bouncing in the winner to send my beloved Leeds United up to the Championship and escape the hell of Swindon and Carlisle away once and for all.

I’d like to say I was jumping up and down from sofa to sofa between the dog barking his head off because not only had we gotten promoted but had also beaten the F.A, Bates and Risdale, but I wasn’t. I was 14, football was simple, and it was the best. 

The simplicity of it was lost pretty quickly. 14 was probably the same time I realised I wasn’t the same as most of the other lads at school, and being different was not welcome, especially on the football pitch.

The only boy publicly out at our school was insulted, isolated, spat at and even punched it seemed on a weekly basis when it came time for P.E and the message was clear. You’re not welcome here, and you’re not welcome in our football.

Terraces were no different, it seemed crazy that these memories are all of the 2010s, but I’d hear chants of “Chelsea rent boys” and discussions of how people “like that” made them sick in pubs after the game.

I look back on it and thank my stars every day that my dad and his mates that we went with were not so horrible. But again, the message was clear, they’re not welcome here, I’m not welcome here. 

In the end I think it stopped me viewing football as “the thing” for me. Even though I could pester my dad with stats on every league one right back we played against, how Enoch Showumni’s career was going, and had every football match I could find on the tele while I finished both my film degrees, it stopped being my dream to be involved with it for a long long time. 

Not to say this time was a waste though, I’ve been assistant director for London’s Disability Film Festival, helped British Disabled Artists get their work all the way to Moscow and found myself love and acceptance in a community that I’m grateful for every day and a partner who has made me happier than I ever was before.  But one thing was missing, and in 2021 I figured I knew where to find it. 

I think I first heard about Clapton through a mate, that there’s this club not like others that was trying to actually do something positive for the community. I was sceptical, but I did a bit of research and couldn’t believe it, a club that was accepting, that was progressive and was actively trying to make the game what I wanted it to be all along. I couldn’t wait to go down and watch a match, hopefully talk to some people and maybe get involved if I could in any little way. Only problem was there was a pandemic. 

It wasn’t until May 22 2021 that I’d finally be able to go to a game. Clapton CFC vs Sporting Hackney, last game of the season. I was so nervous, what if it wasn’t what I hoped? What if I don’t feel what I’m looking for? Or even worse what if my partner who came with me was subjected to any of what I had gone through all those years ago?

I needn’t have worried. The atmosphere was amazing, the people some of the nicest I’ve ever met and I knew within minutes I was a Ton and I wasn’t just going to be able to watch the games I needed to help these amazing people and this beautiful club.

After the game my partner told me he “felt comfortable and around his people”. I could have cried, I probably did cry.

Since then, whenever I can the first place I’m at is the stray dog to see my mates and have a good time watching football. I’ve become a director for the OSDGT and help with the Young Tons admin whenever I get spare time in the day.

The club introduced me to Stonewall FC, I’m playing 5-a-side for the first time in ten years and if I were to extoll all the good I’ve seen this club do since being involved for the local community this would be ten times longer than it already is.

I’ll simply leave it as football is back in my life thanks to Clapton and I couldn’t be happier. It’s the best, it’s simple again and that’s thanks to what all of you have made. 

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