A transgender footballer has been telling The Independent how moving to Bristol and joining an LGBT inclusive football team has helped her rebuild her life. Sammy Walker, originally from London, moved to the West Country city in the summer, joining the Bristol Panthers in the process to reignite her love of football.
Explaining how the move happened and touching on a horrific event, Walker said: “I was having a really bad time in London. A relationship broke down and I was a victim of a hate crime. I no longer felt safe so I came to Bristol because my friend Lucy, who is also a trans woman, asked if I would like to come and live with her. It was a chance to start afresh.”
Back in London, Walker played for Soho FC, members of the Gay Football Supporters Network (GSFN), where she captained the side in several national competitions as well as leading the side on the London Pride march. Hearing of Walker’s move to the city, the Panthers, who are officially affiliated to Bristol City, got her on board to become the latest member of the squad.
“I played the Panthers a few times and I actually scored the goal that knocked them out of the GFSN Cup in Liverpool. When they heard I was moving to Bristol they were keen to have me on board and I was keen to get involved,” Sammy said.
The Panthers are just one of many LGBT inclusive football teams around the country, but only a select few are an official offshoot of a professional club. The Panthers have helped Walker feel the love for football again, helping her regain love for herself and sport.
“I walked into the team and felt comfortable straight away. They really welcomed me in. Everyone is really lovely and I couldn’t ask for more.
“It has been life changing for me. I’ve got my lifestyle back and I’ve been able to manage my mental health and just play football without worrying about being judged or having people look at me.”
Walker has cited many differences between playing inclusive football and playing the regular game, saying the way in which she is treated is the main reason why she chose to end her playing career. Walker came up through the ranks at Watford, before coming to terms with her identity.
After her transition begun, Walker began playing for a ladies team, before she opted to join Soho and she says it has made her more comfortable with herself.
“When I played ladies football I experienced a lot of comments from players and people watching about me.
“I haven’t really heard much homophobia in the stadiums when watching, but I’m a lot further into my transition now and I don’t stick out as much.
“I wouldn’t have dared go to games early in my transition because I was too scared.
“Ever since I played LGBT inclusive sport I’ve never felt the odd one out or felt prejudiced. I’m just able to play the game I love.”
Now successful integrated into her new lease of life and enjoying her time with the Panthers, Walker has undertaken a one woman mission to spread the word about inclusivity in sport and get the message out there about the importance of acceptance and tolerance.
“My personal goal is to make people realise that who you are doesn’t really matter, especially when playing sport, no matter what the sport.
It doesn’t matter what you were into before you came out or before you transitioned. You can still carry on doing that and it doesn’t matter.”
She adds that having the club affiliated with Bristol City helps to spread the word and create an ethos around the club that everyone is equal.
“Ultimately it is hugely beneficial in legitimizing the message we want to get across and that is that discrimination has no place in football.
“There are thousands of football fans across the country that identify as something other than straight and I think having the support of a professional club really helps the acceptance among the club’s supporter base.
“This is all about educating people and making them see that we’re not weird or different, and we’re just people who identify differently to you but ultimately like the same sport.”
There will be a further feature in the coming weeks when The Independent speaks to key figureheads at Bristol City Panthers.