AOF x Nonsuch: Arty Farty Football Parties

Including a full run down of what the World Cup has looked like for us so far, we are in conversation with local legends Nadia Whittome MP, Lisa Dawkins of Forest Womens, and Mik Webster!
Holly Wilson
March 28, 2024

So, it's World Cup Season! And boy, this one has a lot to talk about...

Despite the cold outside, we offered a series of cosy football screenings to enjoy in the run up to Christmas. In order to start conversation around the current World Cup in Qatar and the implications and impacts of the Qatari regime hosting the games, Nonsuch Studios and Art of Football have collaborated to create an inclusive and safe space for those who find themselves not being represented by the Cup this year.

It's Coming Home banner, looks a little sad now

On Monday 21 November, we hosted our 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England V Iran 🇮🇷 watch party!

Our screening of the first of the England games was designed to be a welcoming space for women and non-binary football fans, in relation to and solidarity with the current events and protests that are happening in Iran.

During the game, which saw witness to an unbelievable goal, we served kept everyone full with some Iranian goodies,

For 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England V USA🇺🇸, our watch party included a little surprise! 🌹

In order to get the conversation going, we hosted a panel before the England V USA game on Friday 25 November. The guests included Nadia Whittome MP, Lisa Dawkins previously of Forest Ladies, and local journalism student Mik Webster. To keep the conversation flowing beyond the panel, and for those who weren't able to attend, we have included a full run down of the panel in the form of a transcript, found below.

Queer Notts Zine. Find them on Instagram: @queernotts_zine

We were also lucky enough to have Queer Notts Zine latest issue, Lions, for the event. These were an amazing resource in the conversation about queer football fans, and contain some brilliant written and visual pieces. We will have these available to pick up from our cafe for those who would like a browse.

In Conversation: Nadia Whittome MP, Lisa Dawkins and Mik Webster ⚽

Advisory: This transcript includes mention of discrimination due to sexual orientation and the death of migrant workers. 

Before the panel began, the panellists were engaged in a conversation about how watching I’m A Celeb is like watching the World Cup, with ‘something so wrong about all of it’. They discussed how both events were allowing people to try and redeem themselves, trying to ‘wash their image.’ Lisa offered that ‘there should be requirements before you’re allowed to be given host status. Not breaking human rights agreements!’

As the game approached, we began the panel, hosted by Grace Quinn from Art of Football. 

Grace: We’re going to start now. Do you want to introduce who you are and what you do? 

Nadia: I’m Nadia Whittome, I’m the Labour Member of Parliament for Nottingham East, which covers Sneinton, St Anns, Sherwood, Mapperley, Hyson Green, Arboretum, Forest Fields, New Basford, Bakersfield, quite a bit of Nottingham basically. I’m also the UK’s youngest MP. I feel very conflicted about the World Cup this year, particularly as a queer football fan. It would be great to talk about some of that. 

Mik: Well, I’m Mik Webster. I’m a broadcast journalism student. I have to look at the news, and I have to read and analyse what’s going off in the world. But I suppose Football has always been something that I have watched. I’ve grown up watching football, I’ve grown up as a Forest fan, so that’s always been embraced in the household. But this Cup is a prime example of what sports washing and corruption is all about. It’s textbook corruption. It couldn’t have been written any better by FIFA and Qatar, and so far they’ve done a good job of highlighting that. 

Lisa: Hi, I’m Lisa Dawkins, I work for Nottingham City Homes as Head of Tenant Involvement, so I spend a lot of time working with different community volunteers and community groups across the city. I’m passionate about using sport to engage young people in particular. I have played football for most of my life, probably since I was old enough to walk and kick a ball. I’m a passionate Forest fan, something I inherited from my father, but I didn't necessarily inherit the football from him, it was just something that I felt born to do. I have a long history of involvement with Nottingham Forest Ladies; as a player, and as a manager, coach, and I was a part of the England 2018 2022 World Cup bid team. So, whilst getting to see Forest players go and represent their countries in the World Cup which I’m really looking forward to, I'm really wondering whether I should or shouldn’t be watching this World Cup. Am I a hypocrite, because I just love football so it’s okay for me to just watch this game? When actually I don’t think that it’s quite right that it’s not inclusive and that the World Cup should be played in a country with so many people not included. 

Grace: Yeah, I think that is a good point to start on. A massive part of this is talking about what football should be, cause we can see at the moment it’s got a long way to go. I said to [Mik] yesterday, this is the pinnacle of what football shouldn’t be. What do you guys think it should be? Us at Art of Football want it to be about community, and coming together. Whereas, evidently and I think you’ll agree, people have been pushed out of this World Cup. People have not been represented. What’s your stance on it? 

Mik: I think, like I said to [Grace], it’s, in one outlook, it’s great that there is football in the Middle East. You know, you don’t really think that football is a big sport in the Middle East, but it is massive. However, on the other side, you’ve got to look at the fact that it is not inclusive. That’s what the game is all about, it’s about including everybody. You can’t just say that you are banning the armbands, that are about One Love, essentially to tackle discrimination in the game, you can’t just say ‘you know what, we’re going to ban you from wearing what you like’ I think it’s a shame that the World Cup is being hosted in a country that, not necessarily isn’t able to include everybody, it’s just we’re in a period of time where you shouldn’t have to ask to include people in these games. It should be for everybody. 

Nadia: Yeah, I think that all of us think that football is a beautiful game. It has the power, like music, to unite people across borders, speak to people who don’t necessarily share a language or otherwise share the same culture. But this world cup is the opposite of that. It’s been divisive, exclusive, 6500 migrant workers have died constructing  infrastructure for the World Cup. LGBT+ people are criminalised in Qatar, Qatar never should have been the host. We all know why they were; it’s because money talks. Those are what the allegations are, of there being political pressure, and financial pressure as well. So I think it’s really important that all of us, as football fans, as LGBT people, as allies, that we use this World Cup to highlight the human rights abuses that are being perpetrated by Qatar. To join the families of the migrant workers who died, and the human rights organisations, in demanding compensation from the Qatari government, as well as much better workers rights, demanding that FIFA actually make ethical decisions. That’s a whole other issue about the lack of democracy in football. We stand up for LGBT people who are criminalised in Qatar. I know that a lot of human rights organisations are calling for all of those criminalisation laws to be scrapped. We need to keep repeating that. I was really heartened by Alex Scott wearing the One Love armband. 

Lisa: I agree with you both. There isn’t much for me to add due to such same views. The only thing I can add is, what can we make the takeaway of all this? We are where we are, the World Cup is happening in Qatar, it’s heartbreaking to think about the bad things that have happened and that still need putting right in terms of getting there, and there are so many people who are conflicted about watching the game. The only silver lining of all of it is that people are talking, we can come out of this World Cup and make change. It is a chance, for all the wrong reasons, to have a more powerful conversation. Maybe this will do more to change the lives of people living in Qatar, as well as influence future World Cup decisions, how UEFA and FIFA conduct themselves and the considerations that they may take. For me, we have to try and work out what we can take from this.  We need to really focus our energy on this as a movement for change. 

Mik (left) and Lisa (right) offering alternative punditry.

Grace: I think there are so many reasons why it is so wrong for Qatar 2022, like it’s completely not progressive, what would you say that it should be instead? In order to progress it’s really important to have that mark to reach. What would your ideal World Cup look like? 

Nadia: I’m really inspired by the intersection of football and activism. Groups like Fans Supporting Foodbanks, and ways to practically help people in poverty access food. It’s about solidarity, isn’t it? Even though it’s a competitive sport, it’s also about the fact that all of us have a lot more in common than what divides us, which I think is really important. I’d like to see far more democracy in the game. We can rightly talk about Qatar and the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Qatari regime, but it’s also important to talk about how in English football things aren’t so clean either. A lot of Premier League clubs are owned by oil barons and oligarchs and that shouldn’t be the case. I think a more fan owned football model is really interesting where fans can outvote investors. 

Mik: I’m glad you have mentioned fan ownership, that sort of half and half partnership. Exactly what happens in the Bundesliga, that’s exactly what happens. I think that’s exactly what football should be about; the fans. Because it’s not necessarily just if the team can play every week and score goals, really and truly it's the fans too. They make the game. I think not being able to make the decisions for the club that you go and support week in and week out, there should be a massive change. Especially with how football is. It is such a beautiful sport. It brings people together. It’s great for mental health, and also for physical health. I think being able to promote that a lot more is imperative. Being able to play any sport in this day and age, freely, is a beautiful thing. With FIFA there needs to be a drastic change of how it is operated and run. Even during Sepp Blatter's time in power, especially during the latter stage of his reign, it highlighted how prevalent the corruption was. How it stemmed from people getting large brown envelopes, cash for votes. It needs to start from the top. Grassroots is where it should all be provided for. 

Lisa: Yeah and I think the key thing there is football should be a game for everyone, and anyone. It should be a sport that unites people, and creates a family environment, whether that’s at the elite level or the grassroots level, whatever background or ability. It should be something that puts a smile on everyone's face, and it should be inclusive to everybody. Just to pick up on the latter stages of the Sepp Blatter era, having been involved in the women’s game for 30 years and being part of the 2018 2020 World Cup bid team for Nottingham, Nottingham 2018 that we were a successful candidate after investing a lot of money and resources trying to get there, only to be unsuccessful. But Sepp Blatter famously made a comment saying that more people would watch women's football if they wore shorter shorts and more makeup. 

Nadia: I think the Lionesses, as well as so many other women’s football teams, have proven Sepp Blatter wrong. So many are enjoying women’s football. I was very impressed with the Art Of Football campaign about getting schools to provide football for girls as well, as it’s really shocking the number of schools that provide football  to girls. I believe it’s something like 40%, or even less

Grace: I’m not entirely sure on the stat, but I know when I was in school it was somewhat available but with a stigma, if you did go there would be ideas about you, and you would get a bit bullied. It’s accessible on the practical extent but when you think of the different intricacies of it, such as the social. Girls in sport are perceived as being try hards, or a teachers pet, or gay. 

Nadia: [jokingly] All of the above! 

Grace Quinn, Nadia Whittome MP, Mik Webster, and Lisa Dawkins in conversation at Nonsuch Studios. 25/11/22.

Grace: Even though something may be accessible and open on paper, the stigma is there. A young girl going through puberty is going to be terrified of what people are going to think of her. It is quite a widespread attitude, at least it was felt in my school. 

Nadia: I think so as well, when I was at school it was very much like, you could play football if you were a girl, but you basically had to be sick at it. But then, how do you get to that point? But everyone got to play netball, I was awful at netball. 

Grace: Yeah, in high school it was the energy of if you’re a girl you do netball, if you’re a boy you do football. The petition that Art of Football ran was a big step. The Women’s Euros this year went off more, things were more available and people were more into it. It shows that there is that space for change. It’s just about making those changes. 

Mik: It’s great that the legacy surrounding the Women’s Euros, that for me was amazing. Everybody was invested and glued to watching the games. I remember seeing the coverage on the BBC mentioning how the 2012 Olympics obviously had a lasting legacy and encouraged an investment for sport in Britain to increase tenfold. However, me personally playing sport, I didn’t see any of that, anything come off the back of the  2012 Olympics. The Women’s Euros, however, inspired a new generation. That’s beautiful, I know my niece is now kicking a ball about and playing football at school after watching those games. It speaks volumes. 

Lisa: It really does. I think I reflect back to 2012, I was still involved in the game, I really thought that was going to be the catalyst for change and that things were going to be so much better, and that the whole world of women’s and girls football was going to change. But unfortunately, even though there was change, there wasn’t enough. From there it sort of disappeared off the agenda. I think the impact of what the Lionesses have achieved recently will have a greater impact. But my biggest fear is at what stage will it start to petter away. What I would really like to see is the legacy impacting sustainably the other end of football, the grassroots, getting young people who maybe live in areas of deprivation, giving them the opportunity to play football in schools, like you say, its a classic opportunity and it should be in there if they want to play. There should be clubs and groups and also facilities available in an affordable way, and accessible way for young girls, in the same way there are for young boys. It’s a great way to get the kids off the street, cause that’s where the best players come from anyway in my opinion. There’s still an untapped audience out there, there’s lots of work to do, we’ve done a fantastic job, we’ve achieved, we’ve won the Euros. Now let’s see the same growth at the bottom end of the chain.

Grace: Definitely. It’s so important to speak about these things, because if the conversation doesn’t happen, then change doesn’t happen. 

The panel concluded with the panellist offering their predictions for the game. 

Nadia: 3-1, to England 

Mik: I think 3-1, and England to score first. Actually I think it'd be Bellingham, Saka, then Harry McGuire, he’ll get his head onto it. 

Lisa: Definitely not 3-1. I think it’s a really difficult one to predict, [...] I’ve got a horrible feeling it's going to be a draw, but I’m hoping for an England win. 

The game was then played, and was met with a wonderful and friendly crowd. Thank you so much to Art of Football and to our wonderful panellists who opened up the discussion beautifully.

We kept it more simple for 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 England V Wales🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿, welcoming supporters of each side to come and watch.

The England V Wales affair was a more simple affair, and we were gassed to see the returning faces who had found a new viewing spot in Nonsuch studios! 

Again, we served goodies from the opposing team, this time homemade Welsh cakes. One guy did say he had promised he wasn't allowed to eat any other than his grandma's but did say that they looked good enough to!

We would like to thank Art of Football again for making this possible, as well as those who contributed to making the events! Thank you also to our audience, who created a welcoming and open environment for everyone to enjoy the game! 

See you next year for the Women's World Cup maybe?👀