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A place where we can all enjoy the beautiful game in Leeds

Ashleigh Williams and Ingrid Banerjee Marvin from arts organisation Babeworld want to create a safe space where people can come together to watch football without fear – a simple idea that LEEDS 2023 is helping bring to life.

We are both neurodivergent, mixed race women who love football. We support opposing teams (Spurs for Ash, Arsenal for Ingrid) but when we met through our work on other creative projects, we immediately recognised in each other a like mind; someone who experienced the greatest game in the same way.

Both our dads got us into football but our mums worried about our safety – not just because we were girls but because of our race. Our experiences have led us to this point, where we want to create a place where football can be enjoyed by everyone regardless of who they are. We LOVE football but find it almost impossible to watch a match together, often feeling unsafe at a ground or in the pub.  

As well as the barriers of being female and mixed race, we also have to deal with the results of having ADHD (Ingrid) and autism (Ash), which means that we are often overwhelmed watching a match at a ground or in the pub. Great leaps have been made to make clubs and grounds more physically accessible and we’ve noticed more and more theatres have autism friendly performances so we wanted to look at ways to make it easier for those struggling with sensory issues to enjoy football too.

We are working with LEEDS 2023 on a commission called ‘No Home Advantage’. Over the last few months we have been busy researching and planning, talking to others who have experienced bigotry or had genuine fear of repercussions following a match. Both of us know that it’s not something experienced or carried out by all football fans but it is something that is a significant problem for many women, those who are mixed race and / or LGBTQ+. 

We want to create a physical space in Leeds where we can hold events, workshops and activities for other football fans, as well as being a place to watch matches, of course.  We don’t want anything fancy, just a space that everyone can relax in – where it’s safe to take part in some friendly football-related competition without repercussion, no matter what team you support.

It’s great to be part of something that is bigger than we are, thanks to LEEDS 2023 we’ve been able to connect and share our ideas with other creatives and really feel our work has been validated. For a long time people saw our football focus as a side-line to other work, something we weren’t serious about, ‘No Home Advantage’ changes all that.

Leeds is a city that has football running through its veins, it’s such a significant part of the culture and it’s brilliant that LEEDS 2023 is embracing that with commissions like ours. We want ‘No Home Advantage’ to be an initiative that runs and runs, maybe even becoming a regular fixture in other cities. 

First published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on Saturday 11th December.