Joanie Evans is the Co-President of the Gay Games and was an influential member of trailblazing lesbian team Hackney WFC - the first openly gay team in Europe. We spoke to her about her experiences as a gay woman in football and how the game has progressed through the years. 

“I grew up in an age when girls weren’t really allowed to play football, so although I’ve always loved football I didn’t realise there were any women’s teams out there. 

I came out when I was 25, and not long after started studying for my coaching badges. It was there that one of the coaches told me about women’s football teams, and then through a friend I heard about Hackney WFC - a team I was told was a predominantly lesbian team. 

She convinced me to go along to one of their training sessions in Stoke Newington - even though I was living all the way in West London at the time - and then by the following weekend I was in the team playing an actual game for them! 

This was 1989, which wasn’t the easiest time to be gay. We were in the midst of the AIDS crisis and even as lesbians we felt like we were being targeted. But as a team we were always open about our sexuality - even despite the abuse that would be hurled at us from the sidelines because of this. 

Alarmingly the discrimination didn’t just come from the sidelines. The league itself tried to bring a case against us for bringing the league into disrepute and influencing young girls, simply because of the fact we were an openly gay team. 

Of course this is something we fought back against - Hackney WFC has always been a very outspoken team - and in the end it was rightly found that it was the league that was in the wrong. 

This was a big win for us. We didn’t ever not want to be true to ourselves, and in a sense being true to ourselves meant we were able to play better football.

In a way I feel like Hackney WFC set the precedent for where we are today in the women’s game. Back when I was playing I had a top player telling me that I couldn’t show that I was a lesbian because it would set women’s football back 20 years, but now it couldn’t be more different. 

You now have all these role models coming through who are more than happy to talk about their sexuality and their partners and it's something that is rightly celebrated. 

So the advice I pass on now to the younger generation is to never give up. There is more hope and opportunity now than there has ever been, and there are so many opportunities for young women to play football to the fullness of their abilities. 

Whoever you want to be in sports, there is a place for you. Hackney WFC and everyone else who came before you has paved the way - it’s now up to you to take it.”