On Saturday at City's dedicated Football v Homophobia match against Bury, members of Isca Apollo, the new Exeter LGBT football team, will take to the pitch at half-time to be officially inducted under the Exeter City umbrella of community teams.
The LGBTQ+ team, which welcomes ‘all abilities, genders and identities’ as lofty ambitions to compete at a national level – but still maintain its inclusive ethos.
Started by recruitment consultant Lewis Bell-Cawthra, along with Craig Lunt and Cody Hepburn, the team trains at West Exe School every Wednesday evening and also features regular social meet-ups. It currently has more than 16 players regularly taking part, aged from 18 to 55.
Lewis says he was inspired to establish the team after playing for an LGBTQ+ friendly team in London.
‘The community around the club really made me feel like I belonged in a team for the first time, it was an amazing feeling to be able to play football again without prejudice and I wanted that for Exeter and the rest of the community in Devon.
‘We aim to provide a safe and enjoyable environment for LGBTQ + players and are open to all regardless of ability, experience or sexual orientation, even if they’ve never kicked a ball before, they are welcome
He adds: ‘One player came to me and said, I want to play, but I’m rubbish, I got bullied when I was at school which put me off. We can give confidence and change that for people who never felt like they were part of a team.’
During training sessions, the group works on techniques and skills to help improve ability and confidence, which is followed by a match. After each session they head to the Royal Oak who supply drinks and food for the team.
Lewis adds: ‘The Royal Oak staff have been a great support to the team from the start and made us feel extremely welcome. Things have really started to progress for the team, we now have an official sponsor with Coolings in Exeter and our partnership also with Exeter CITY Community Trust is really important to us. This has already opened many doors for us and their continued support will ensure we will grow with the LGBTQ+ community.’
The team is due to play its first competitive tournament in Yorkshire in March and its aim is to play in the Gay Football Supporters Network (GSFN) league next season.
CITY Community Trust will offer the team support, guidance and coaching advice. It will also support its affiliation to the FA later this year.
Jamie Vittles, head of community at CITY Community Trust, said: ‘It is great to welcome Isca Apollo to the CITY Community Trust family. We believe sport should be inclusive and accessible to all, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or ability, and we will be working with the team to support their growth in the months and years to come.’
For more information contact Lewis on email@example.com.
Up next at St James Park:
City take on Tranmere Rovers on Saturday, March 2 in a 3pm kick-off. Ticket prices are cheaper in advance. Click here to buy online.