Why CCFC stopped being a safe space for me: looking back and moving the club forward

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. 

The Incident 

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. 

The Future  

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.


  1. It would be great to have something at the club (info line, or number, email etc) to offer support and mutual aid to women fans who experienced any sort of sexism or violence, at the stadium, at home, on the public transport etc

  2. As a member, I would be interested in attending the anti-sexism training. You can never receive too much education. Thank you for dealing with this so positively.

    1. I was quite shocked reading what happened
      I’m very sorry this happened to you Cat , unfortunately in life people do get it wrong and make mistakes god know I’ve made lots as everyone knows but I truly believe it’s how you learn from those mistakes and make sure Clapton CFC is a safe space for everyone I would like to take the workshop also as you can always learn to be a better person would it be available online ?

  3. On one side I (as a man) admire your courage, Cat, for openly speak up and share the incident and constructively approach it. On the other side it astonishes me that I believe it needs courage while it should be the most normal thing on earth, especially in our Club. It is the second incident in this year of our club about which I was reading from the far (Budapest) which gives me to think. I thought so far, that it’s the basic beliefs that I share with most of our fellow members (not necessarily typical for here in Hungary) and I trust it is indeed so. For me CCFC is an extraordinary club, that’s why I joined it, though from the far but still and I‘m proudly telling about it wherever I am. I.e. happened so in April when my Camino led me trough Baiona (Spain) where I wore my away shirt and was questioned about it (no pasaran) and tried with my rudimentary Spanish to explain the basic idea of our club. It was the indescribable spirit that caught me originally and I would be sad and disappointed if we would loose that asset of ours by not taking serious of want we stand for.
    I hope Cat that we do not loose your engagement in CCFC as it is people like you who make the difference. Thx for sharing the incident
    Rgds Gábor

  4. Echoing Richard’s comment, I’d also be very interested in the anti-sexism workshop, as I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my own internalized sexism as of late.

  5. Although this is positive, this took ages to get right. Something so obvious. We lost an amazing coach, somebody who was doing important things for this club, all because of something as ridiculous as failing to act asap to sexism. Do better CCFC.

  6. Very sad to hear about this. As a new Clapton fan and member I have felt alienated by the behaviour of certain sections of male fans at points at women’s games. I think there is sometimes a failure to consider how much space is taken up and how certain behaviours impact on those around them (women, NB ppl and young ppl). I think wider education would be great for the club.

  7. Is there a reason my first comment on this article was deleted? We are members. Unbelievable CCFC deleted—considering this is about sexism, I am a woman commenting on the upsetting issue with Cat, my daughter/son train at CCFC and my husband volunteers (and is getting trained to be a coach for CCFC). Wow.

    1. Hi Hilary, just a note to reassure you that your comment wasn’t removed. Rather it hadn’t been approved yet. Comments from new users are held in a queue until a human being on the comms team approves them to be published, which I have only just done. It’s a way of intercepting spam comments I believe. Sorry for any confusion and thanks for your input. Paul

  8. I would first like to say my heart goes out to Cat for having to endure such an experience. It’s always incredibly disheartening to hear of any such incident but I was genuinely devastated to hear that this abuse was from one of our own teams, the people who should be the embodiment of our values on the pitch.

    Not only that this happened, but the clear lack of anything meaningful being done about it is disgusting. I bring my young daughter to our games in the belief that this is an inclusive and safe space but clearly that’s wrong.

    I have always been proud of our club for its values, it’s the reason why I am a member, I’m not really in it for the football, I’m in it because I have always felt we are a progressive, positive step forward, an example that society can be better.

    It feels like everything this club represents has been made worthless by this.

  9. Kevan. Loved finding our club. I live in Wolverhampton and so have only managed to see one game, but everytime I wear my second team shirt ( the only team shirt I’ve ever worn ) I have conversations about why ccfc is different and how proud I am of the ethos.
    The point. Every player who dons the shirt should know and understand why we are inclusive non sexist non racist. If they don’t wholeheartedly take this on board and practice it (men’s 1st team note!) they should not be members of the club.
    I love Liverpool football club but my passion is for CCFC for your ethos.
    Please Cat give them a chance to correct the problem. Thanks Kevan

  10. Dear Cat and Clapton CFC
    I would be interested in attending a workshop which was also on Zoom. I live in North Devon and have only been able to attend one game since joining in 2018. I support and promote Clapton Community Football Club and love the willingness to be democratic.

    This incident is saddening. The response from CCFC I hope shows that the solution to sexist behaviour is being sought and that Cat is being listened to. Most importantly is the need to act. I hope also that you will stay with the club and all your concerns following the experience in March are fully dealt with. The onus is o the club to give you full support.

    I agree, perfection is impossible, and actually not desirable, however, there has to be genuine empathy for any person who has felt vulnerable and/or excluded by unacceptable behaviour.

    I hope that you can be convinced Cat from the responses since your letter that apologies are genuine, that action is being taken, not top down, but because members have agreed a code, which following your letter may need amending so you, all women and anyone regardless of how they identify can feel safe at this extraordinary football club.

    In solidarity

    I’m hoping to come to one or two games next season

  11. Great article and response from the club. “Boys will be boys” is a lazy excuse that covers a multitude of unacceptable behaviours.

    This club belongs to you and me.

  12. I am interested in taking the workshop if offered online. As a member, I always feel my behaviour reflects on the Club as many people at work and socially know of my membership and the values it represents. However, I am very disappointed that these misconduct issues continue. To the Club’s credit, they are taken seriously and remedial preventive actions implemented.

  13. Just to give an update to those people contacting me about this, thank you so much for your support. You probably won’t get a reply from the club about this judging by the above question so I’ll share here. I’ve since had no option but to leave the club and my U9 girls team. I am so disappointed in the lack of support and behaviour of some of its members. Whilst a couple of people did step up, the flat structure of the club makes it almost impossible to put anything in place and it makes it incredibly easy for people to turn the other way and pretend it isn’t happening. It’s been nine months of fighting and, if I’m being honest, dealing with a whole host of tactics designed to shame, silence and blame me.

    I will never represent CCFC again. If you’re a woman and you’re part of it now, make sure you know who your safeguarding reps are.

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