Building an inclusive space to watch the Women's World Cup

Baller FC's inclusive events to watch the World Cup were so popular they crashed their ticketing website.

Have you recovered from the World Cup final yet? I’m not sure I have. Regardless of the result for England, it was so thrilling to see so many people – queer or not – fall in love with football for the first time over the course of the tournament.

Part of the reason this tournament was so intoxicating was because of the culture of inclusiveness and joy that surrounded it. And there’s no better example of that culture than Baller FC – a collective of pals who put on inclusive events to watch women’s football. Kate, part of the Baller FC team, explains why it’s so important.



By Kate Sullivan

We’re a group of mates who formed Baller Friends Collective (“Baller FC”) after scouring the streets of London in 2017 to find a pub or a place where we could watch the UEFA Women’s EURO tournament. Most pubs were unaware it was taking place or preferencing men’s club matches over it. On the rare occasion we could find a place to show a match it would be in the least salubrious part of the pub with the volume turned to zero. That’s when we started dreaming of our own space.

We went to Lyon in 2019 for the Women’s World Cup semis and final and we found fans on street corners and in unofficial pubs and zones celebrating the game together, regardless of the team they supported. No aggression, no segregation, no fights or flares - just joy and a community of fans celebrating the beautiful game together. The atmosphere was electric.

We set up Baller FC to bring that energy back to the UK. We wanted to make a DIY, safe, inclusive and welcoming place for people to enjoy watching women’s football. The cornerstone of everything we do is love. We’re all members of the queer community and we want everybody who comes to our events to feel loved, welcomed, and that they can be truly and unapologetically themselves.

For the World Cup this year, we partnered with Signature Brew in Haggerston to show all the Lionesses games and select group games. We were so glad when they came on board – loads of pubs really missed an opportunity this year, perhaps underestimating the popularity of the women’s game after hearing stories in the media about national broadcasters either not bidding or making derisory bids for the broadcast rights. Their mistaken belief was that people wouldn’t get out of bed for it. How wrong they were. Yesterday’s final on the BBC out rated the men’s Wimbledon final and came in second only to King Charles’ coronation. In Australia, the semi-final broke broadcast records with close to half the country watching.

There were so many magic moments in this tournament that consistently built the crowds - Katie McCabe’s extraordinary goal from the corner, Nigeria’s dominance in the group stages, that semi-final goal from Sam Kerr, the supernatural talent of Lauren James and Mary Earps’ goddess-like save against Spain’s penalty kick in the final.

The entire world was riveted to their screens.

Baller FC had to ticket all the Lioness games to manage capacity and were selling out a 200 capacity venue in under 2 minutes every time. In the lead up to the final last Sunday, we had to move to a venue with over double the capacity, crashed the ticketing site, sold out in 15 minutes, and had 1,500 people on the waitlist plus many walking up to the gate in the hopes of getting in.

In a railway arches bar, a crowd of mostly female-presenting people celebrate, wearing a variety of football shirts
Photo: Annabel Staff

You might think with the increasing audience that a place like Baller FC would be overrun with people who don’t share our inclusive philosophy. But like attracts like and people who turn up to Baller FC want the same things we do. The most important thing for all of us is safe, inclusive space.

We lost around 60% of queer spaces in London in the ten years leading into the pandemic - dropping from around 121 to 51 - and we’ve lost a great deal more since then. The dramatic loss of space has been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis. This is where Baller FC is stepping in to create the space that so many of us desperately need.

The women’s game is incredibly special because of the inclusive culture it brings with it. We’ve seen problems with violence among fans in the men’s game and we’re really keen for that not to be a feature of the women’s game. You would be hard pressed to find an outwardly genderqueer person who feels relaxed in a stadium or pub at a men’s game.

Homophobic chanting has been a feature of the game for many years and FIFA has unapologetically partnered with homophobic, sexist and racist regimes in relation to the men’s games.

Among a crowd of people, two female-presenting people look on while embracing
Photo: Annabel Staff

The players in this tournament overcame a helluva lot to be there - a football ban of 50 years, severe lack of funds and resources, in some cases abuse and violence. And a higher proportion of female players are outwardly living as proud members of the LGBTIQA+ community.

So when the players take to the pitch, their fans (many of whom have been through the same challenges and need role models to aspire to) aren’t obsessed with old rivalries repurposed and retrofitted from the men’s game. They’re not interested in violence or dominating each other. They’re celebrating that the world is finally waking up to the extraordinary athletic talents of women and that the athletes in the game are actively working toward a better future.

At Baller FC we’re celebrating along with them and want to amplify that spirit. And everyone’s invited.

If you enjoyed reading Kate’s piece, share it with your pals.