This probably isn’t going to be the easiest of reads, I haven’t enjoyed writing it, but it is important. If we want to belong to a club that really and truly stands apart from other clubs, this is a conversation that needs to happen. I’ve written this not to call out, but in the hope it helps create positive change.
For those who don’t know me I’m Cat, I’ve been involved in CCFC for two years, a youth training coach for one and I helped set up and coach the under 9 girls team. I started coaching after watching my son thrive at youth training, got my qualifications, and have loved it ever since. It’s not always been easy; I’m a mother, I have a full-time job, but just like all of us, I made it work because what this club does is important.
On the 15th March earlier this year, I attended the evening game against Wilberforce Wanderers. I attended alone. If you had told 20-year-old me, who had just left football because of sexism in the game, that I would one day go to a men’s evening football game on my own, in the dark, with a load of men I barely knew, I would have laughed at you. But I happily went that night because I believed I was safe from the sort of behaviour I saw in the game elsewhere. The club’s clear anti-sexist stance got me out of the door and yelling, dancing and singing with the best of them in the scaffold. I had so much fun.
As I left the ground alone, I shouted a goodbye to one of the coaches, a colleague of mine and a good friend, they couldn’t see me because of the floodlights, so I explained that it was me – ‘It’s Cat!’
Almost immediately, members of our men’s first team (M1T) who were warming down on the floor, started mimicking me and repeating what I’d said in a variety of silly/’sexy’ voices – they also purred, meowed and whistled. It was a few different members of the team, they took it in turns, and it lasted for the time it took me to walk the length of the pitch and leave the ground – where I promptly burst into tears.
I had been a woman on my own, receiving loud and 100% unwanted attention by members of our first team under the floodlights, and it was mortifying.
Why Excuses Don’t Work Here
Now here is where the conversation gets difficult. Well, more difficult. Over the months since it happened, I have had some absolutely brilliant conversations with people who have understood how devastating I found that incident and how totally inappropriate it was – two particular male allies stand out and I’m so grateful for their time and support. But I’ve also had some challenging and surprising conversations. Conversations in which the teams behaviour was excused as a joke, put down to the excitement of the win, and men just being men. I have tried so hard to force myself into that line of thinking, I really have. We’re all part of the same club and I haven’t wanted to rock the boat and cause a scene because it’s awkward dealing with an issue like this, but we need to call it what it was.
It was sexism.
It wouldn’t have happened if I’d been a man. My conversation with a colleague wouldn’t have been sexualised. A man wouldn’t have walked out of the ground hearing their voice and name being repeated amidst ‘pleasurable’ meowing sounds. It happened because I am a woman.
It wasn’t a joke. A joke involves both sides and it has to be at an appropriate level for how well you know each other. I have never met M1T. I’ve got a great sense of humour, and I love fun, but I wasn’t involved in this ‘joke’ in any way. It used my name, my voice, my very presence at the match but I wasn’t included… it was done at my expense. It came from a group of men, who as members of the first team were in a position of power, and it involved one woman on her own. And, let’s face it, I could have been anyone. I could have been fifteen. I could have had my son or daughter standing next to me. I could have been incredibly vulnerable and that could have pushed me right over the edge.
The Follow Up and Accountability Process
From what I’ve seen of CCFC so far, there is absolutely no place for that kind of behaviour anywhere. How is it then, that we had a group of people within our club who felt they could act that way and that it would be acceptable? How do we have an environment in which that sort of behaviour goes without a pretty serious follow-up? I’ve read our club’s accountability statement and it’s amazing – I look at it every time I enter the OSD and it reminds me of how grateful I am that I found the club – but it only goes so far with incidents like this. I know the process that I was expected to take to follow this incident up. It was to tell them they’d upset me and to receive an apology which I would hopefully be able to accept. I was to find someone to come with me if I found it too upsetting to do alone. Expecting one aggrieved individual to organise an approach to a group of people isn’t appropriate. I think our current accountability process works brilliantly for other, smaller incidents but not this one.
Our club flies the anti-sexist, anti-racist and anti-fascist flags high. We should be meeting these incidents with an outpouring of concern, and demand for change… and not just from the person it happened to. It needs to be dealt with at a club level and I just haven’t seen that in response to this incident. It’s not right and it’s not in line with our values. But it can be in the future. We need to learn from this.
What is Anti-Sexism?
Supporting our women’s team, even if we travel miles to go to see their games, is wonderful – but it isn’t anti-sexism – it just means we love football and support all of our teams. Having pictures of women players up in the clubhouse and having girls’ teams is awesome, but again, it doesn’t mean we’re anti-sexist. Banners, stickers, songs, talks… the same.
Anti-sexism is about being proactive and actively opposing incidents of sexism. If we are to be truly anti-sexist, we need to make sure we are educating people on our clubs’ values as they enter our club and our teams. We need to make our expectations clear, and if people aren’t willing to stand with us on these non-negotiables, then difficult conversations need to happen.
Driving Positive Change
The original plan was that I addressed members of M1T so I could discuss the incident; how it made me feel and the consequences I’ve faced as a result. I wanted to do this because I wanted to ensure the accountability process was in place but I’ve since taken on advice from multiple club members not to do it. In all honesty, I would have found it challenging.
Instead, I will be asking the Accountability Committee to engage members in a review and update of the accountability process, handbook and statements so that they clearly state how we respond to incidents like this one. We must have an internal structure that can handle the reporting process sensitively and efficiently, and make sure the follow up process does not add more stress to the person affected. I will be requesting that the club provides some sort of training, and will also ask the club, where necessary, to seek external advice to ensure these changes are impactful and create real positive change. I would really value your support over these changes – as someone who has been through the process now, I can tell you they are very much needed.
I would like to ask that we all consider how we can actively challenge sexism in our club in the future. It’s okay not to have all the answers, none of us do, but we can learn. It’s on all of us to make sure we know how to be truly anti-sexist. Women and girls, just like every other member of our club, deserve to feel safe and respected.
Whilst I’m prepared to help create positive change within the club, I also want to acknowledge the consequences of this incident at a personal level.
Fighting my corner on this has been exhausting, and it’s been a while since I’ve felt the sort of collective joy I felt before it happened. At times, I’ve felt extremely isolated and let down. Attempting to traverse the accountability process has been time-consuming and frustrating and has added to these feelings no end. Just to give you some idea of what I mean by that, this letter is now is its tenth revision, I’ve easily put in over thirty hours dealing with the follow-up of the incident and I can’t remember the last time I had a day without having to talk about it. It’s been immense and, as someone who had no control over the original incident in the first place, unfair.
I’ve also, for obvious reasons, struggled with my role of encouraging girls into the club.
I’d just like to acknowledge here too that whilst I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to speak to members of M1T coaching staff and to receive their own personal apologies – I am still yet to receive any sort of apology from the players involved. At three and a half months in, I’m not sure how we’d even go about that now. Or begin to move on.
Because of the reasons above, I have stepped back from CCFC, and that includes my roles at youth training and U9 girls. I don’t know yet if this is a permanent decision – I suspect it is – but what I do know, is that we need to get concrete steps in place to mitigate the chances of our women and girls encountering sexism within our space. At the very least, we need to know exactly what to do if it arises.
We are brilliant at so many thing CCFC, but on this, we must do better.
The club spoke to the management of M1T, who wanted to add:
First and foremost, the entire Men’s first team would like to profusely apologise to Cat for the incident which occurred on the 15th of March.
The M1T players are in a very privileged position representing Clapton CFC on a weekly basis and this comes along with the added responsibility of adherence to the ethos of the club.
On this occasion, we have fallen short of our collective responsibility to make the game an inclusive space for everyone to enjoy football. We must adhere to the accountability process – following the review that will be undertaken by the club – to make sure there isn’t a similar scenario in future.
Since the incident was brought to our attention, some individual members of M1T have met Cat, personally apologised and also discussed a mutual resolution, which she has been very open to.
We have taken Cat’s suggestions on board and agree that education and awareness are key to ensuring Clapton CFC is a safe and welcoming place for all. With that in mind, we will be taking part in an anti-sexism workshop this pre-season.
As manager of M1T, Geoff is available to answer questions, should members have any.
Next steps from Clapton Community FC
1. An anti-sexism workshop for M1T
M1T, with support from the club, will arrange an anti-sexism workshop for the team during pre-season
2. An anti-sexism workshop for any interested members
We will be looking for someone to lead a session at the OSD that addresses anti-sexism and also intersectional areas like anti-racism, and how these ideas can be applied in the context of our club
3. For the Accountability Committee to conduct a review of its remit and procedures.
This would start with a members’ questionnaire to collect feedback on CCFC’s Accountability process, which would then inform a larger conversation about how the club wants to resolve Accountability issues in future.