Hells Bells FC

Hells Bells FC is a radically trans-inclusive, grassroots football team. Angered and disgusted by the FA limitations for trans players, even for amateurs, Hells Bells was formed as a middle finger to an exclusionary institution. The east London team now boasts over 50 women, gender non-conforming and trans members, encouraging an open environment where all (except white cis males) are welcome to join. Not satisfied with just a team, Hells Bells, alongside other like-minded teams, also created the Clubs United league, as the home for competitive play for inclusive teams.

“Hannah [the founder] brought two factors together, being gay and being good at football and I suppose was just like, “f*** it, I'll set, it up”. I think the kind of “f*** it, I'll do it,” attitude is very much present through everything we do because ain't nobody gonna make that happen for you. And so we just have to sort of crack on ourselves. And so we have!”



A conversation with Hells Bells FC and Louise Millar, Strategy Director at Seed and Jasmine Roberts, Research and Insights Director*

Community has become a really overused term, but what does it mean to you and the Hells Bells team?

HBFC: To me, it's kind of like family. It's people that will support you no matter what, even if they don't truly understand what you're going through, they can just be there to give you the support that you might need through some tough times.

HBFC: I think the community part of it is that you just let go of a lot of the other baggage that you carry around, and for our trans members particularly, we get to turn up and we just don't talk about it. There is no part of me that is having to consciously mask anything about the way I talk, the way I look, the way I sound, how short my hair is, how broad my shoulders are.

In the last few years, there's been a real explosion of youth collectives and communities. Why do you think that is and how do you think it reflects the attitudes of your generation?

HBFC: I think that we're not scared. We don't really care about conforming, I guess. I think with the new generation it's more acceptable to be who you want to be. Not that it should matter to anyone else because you're not really affecting anyone else’s life.

HBFC: I think there's a slight sense of restlessness after the pandemic. Everyone was shut indoors for two years and had nothing to anchor themselves to, but also the shape of provisions for young people is just absolutely non-existent. So young people have to build the home part of it and find the thing to anchor them.

One of the biggest obstacles to Hells Bells FC was the FA’s rules surrounding trans players—what were the specific rules set by the FA and other official groups that prompted action from your collectives?

HBFC: It was set out by the FA that any transgender player basically wasn't allowed to play for a women's team or a man's team for that matter. So, being trans myself, they basically just say there's nothing for you. Go find another sport. I found it really difficult, because for me I don't feel comfortable playing for a full men's team at the moment.

Are there any consistent challenges or obstacles that you face that threaten the ability to keep Hells Bells?

HBFC: The biggest thing is funding. It's hard I think, especially the kind of team that we are. Finding sponsors that would sponsor an LGBTQ team is a lot harder than you would think unless the brand is LGBTQ. It costs a lot to join these leagues and we had to actually pull out of one of the leagues that we were playing in which we just couldn't afford.

Have you faced any pushback or resistance from traditional structures since you established Hells Bells FC?

HBFC: Male teams kind of dominate [the amateur team space]. They always get space. We have to train inside in the winter and find a space to train. We will always get picked second if there’s a male team. I think it's just ingrained in everyone that they get first pick, especially the people that run these places. It's normally schools or leisure centres who have teachers that are straight cis men, so…

In the last two years particularly, it feels like there's been a huge shift in actions towards women and non-binary teams and sports. How would you describe your experience of this and how has it impacted your collective?

HBFC: I think the women's team winning the Euros was a massive turning point for everyone in football—I think it proved women can do the same thing as men if not better. I think that opened a lot of doors for women's teams and non-binary teams.

By creating a safe space for underrepresented groups, it becomes an exclusive space. How do you advocate for exclusive spaces while maintaining an inclusive outlook?

HBFC: Exclusivity—how do I advocate for that? There's not much to advocate for, it feels like a no-brainer. It's like the only people that could ever have a problem with it have to necessarily fall outside of the sort of defined bracket I’m talking about, so they must be cis men. I'm not going to hear from someone that says that that's unfair, because we are not creating an advantage, we are creating a space for the disadvantaged, and that is not the same.

How do you envision the future of your grassroots team and its impact on reshaping narratives within the wider sports community?

HBFC: I think it's only gonna get bigger. It's just gonna be more people to add to the cause that we're fighting for. And as time goes on, I think we'll just continue to do more for the community. We’ll be an open space for anyone to come and join whenever they need to.

What strategies or tactics do you use to engage with or mobilise your local community or reach a broader audience?

HBFC: [Our members] do a lot on social media, they connect with a lot of people, they post a lot of stuff that gets shared everywhere. We’ve been on multiple moodboards of these big magazines, simply because they are so great and so artistic in the way they document things about the team that it reaches so many people. A lot of social media is people pretending—showing people what they want to see, not what actual life is. We just want to be raw and authentic.

If you could set up the ultimate partnership for the team, who would it be with, and why?

HBFC: It feels weirdly like it's in touching distance. We've had chats on the thread today about fundraising and we're like, could we get Leah Williamson to sign a football and auction it off? We’re looking for any brand or anything that can facilitate things like that.

HBFC: I think to me, any brand that stands up for the rights that we believe in and has the same core values and mission in life would be a great partnership for me. The last thing that we would want to do is be connected to anyone that doesn't believe in what we believe in, just because we fought so hard for it. Big brands will maybe put the pride flag on the door for June and then take it off again, and that winds me up. Honestly, It's just an advertisement thing.

What can brands do to genuinely support your collective goals and values, and what do you consider to be the essential elements of a successful collaboration?

HBFC: A company that doesn't have to use one month of the year to be outlandish and say “we're here to back you up”. Whatever you do, just be consistent—show support in times that are hard. When the government is looking to take away certain trans rights, show your support in that.

HBFC: We've got more to grow, and a brand team could figure out how that's facilitated, but that's the aim—community networking and somewhere to call home for more than just a few weeks. There are big brands who have fucked up in the past. They would have the pride flag up for June, but they don’t donate on World AIDS Day, don’t give a shit when it’s lesbian visibility week, or bi visibility week, or trans awareness week. If you want to earn your rainbow in pride month, show up now and do something, and we can give you a blue tick that says you give a shit about queer people.

*This conversation has been condensed and edited but has strived to remain as close to the original word for word version as possible.

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