Creative Soccer Culture

Goal Diggers FC journey to Porto with New Balance

We capture Goal Diggers’ London to FC Porto Experience

How better to celebrate the barrier-breaking connection between Goal Diggers FC and New Balance, dedicated to inspiring through sport, than 36 hours in Porto to watch the home side take on fierce rivals Sporting Lisbon? Gaby Pimentel (she/her), the grassroots team’s 40+ session leader and committee member, certainly had a memorable time in the sunshine with Diggers teammates Britt Dobson (they/them), Brooke Young (she/her), Mylinh To (she/her) and Adday Heller (she/her). “Honestly it was one of those pinch-me moments. You’re like, ‘as if I'm in the New Balance box experiencing this.’ This is madness,” she shares with SoccerBible. “My family are Portuguese, but I’ve only been to Porto once before.” Proudly wearing their Goal Diggers FC and FC Porto jerseys, the group that explored the city’s sights and iconic stadium were reflective of the diversity of their club, with Abigail Morris photographing vivid moments. 

Goal Diggers FC’s partnership with New Balance since 2022 has gone far beyond providing kits, providing vital resources and amplification to support impressive growth and help maximise progress for the club. Fleur Cousens founded the London-based non-profit club in 2015 and ran a campaign called ‘Pitch Please’ to highlight the fact that many grassroots football pitches are always booked up by men’s teams. The original mission to make football more inclusive and accessible for womxn and non-binary people remains the same and is powered by a proactive and very social community. All of their adventures are documented on Instagram – two or three teams training and playing in different leagues every week, at least one foreign tour a year that’s absolute “carnage”; and a semi-regular but legendary queer club night called Murder on Zidane’s Floor. “It's such a unique set of circumstances that mean a club like this can grow and continue to be financially viable,’ adds Pimentel. “It's a well-oiled machine that requires constant care otherwise it would grind to a halt, which would be such a shame.”

Below, Pimentel unpacks her Porto memories and Goal Diggers FC’s pioneering role in the burgeoning creative football landscape.

On what Goal Diggers FC does 

“It’s about making it easier to be a female and non-binary [grassroots] player, inclusion, availability over ability. You can be whoever you want to be to play football: queer or straight, 65 years old or 18. We’ve had refugees play and there are no barriers when you step onto that pitch.

“We have 200 active members, and our closed waitlist has over 100 people on it. Waitlist spaces are prioritised for non-binary players, trans players, players from certain ethnic backgrounds, and older players in the 40+ category. The biggest thing stunting the women's game is access to pitch space. When Goal Diggers FC started, there were 20 people on a community pitch in Kings Cross and they started using the car park because there wasn't enough space for them. We now train once a week and rent out a Haggerston pitch where we have space for 80 people on Wednesdays.

“We're trying to do more. Our new club ethos is about making the club feel like a family, a big club with a  small, intimate feel, where no one feels like an outsider, and keeping people included when injured or not playing. Goal Diggers FC is just good quality, clean football.”

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On partnering with New Balance

“We are very grateful that New Balance allows us to support womxn and players who can't afford football. Pitch rental, league entries, and coach fees are so expensive – The 40+ scheme I lead runs at a loss – so every time players sign up for something, you can pay more less, or nothing at your discretion. The whole point of going to Porto was to honour the partnership and have a good time. It was a great weekend celebrating the diversity of football. One of our players, Billie Walker (she/they), is currently designing a kit with New Balance for our upcoming Lisbon tour.”

On exploring Porto

“We had a packed 36-hour itinerary. We were exhausted when we got back but it was so good. We had a walk around Porto, a traditional Portuguese lunch, beers in the sunshine, and watched the derby. You have to go down to the river – what Portugal does well is nice places to have a beer with stunning views. Before we went to the airport, we sat on the top of a hill with live music while having a drink. Absolute heaven.”

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On FC Porto vs Sporting Lisbon

“Getting to the stadium was wild and there were fans going crazy everywhere. Everyone was buzzing and the atmosphere was incredible. There were flares, fireworks, chants, flags and it looked like a quarter of the stadium was on fire at one point. It was a great game – Porto were 2-0 up until the final five minutes when Sporting scored two, so it ended in a draw.

“The New Balance box was insane. ‘Petiscos’ (salty little snacks) were served in the hospitality box: little fish cakes, prawn cakes, tortillas, and croquettes on an afternoon tea sandwich stand, with Portuguese caramel flan for dessert. I sent so many photos to my dad and he was like, ‘Oh my god, I can't believe you're eating this in a football stadium.’ And I was like, ‘I know.’”

On the Estádio do Dragão

“The stadium was unreal and there’s something about it being slightly sunken into the ground. We did the stadium tour on Sunday, which I wouldn’t have done if I had visited as a tourist. There is a huge installation by the famous Portuguese sculpture artist Joana Vasconcelos in the lobby. It was stuck to the ceiling surrounded by trophies, and I was just like, ‘this is mental.’ My dad's obsessed with this artist and I've seen her art when she did a huge exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It was really cool.”

On being a queer woman in male-dominated spaces

“I’ve worked in male-dominated spaces for the majority of my professional career, and I don’t get intimidated by them. I’m a Physio who lectures and runs a private clinic in Shoreditch. I’ve worked at Chelsea, Brighton & Hove, the FA with the Lionesses and travel away with a private client once a month. But if I were to take my mum, grandma, or sister [to a men’s game], I think they’d feel uncomfortable there but absolutely fine at a women’s game.”

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On Creative Soccer Culture

“I’m slightly biased because I live in a queer East London soccer culture bubble that is so different from anywhere else. I'm obsessed with soccer culture because it's become a safe space for queer women and it's very creative. From the recent Copa 71 film to pop-up events screening women’s football, to Goal Diggers members who run Counter Pressed and Big Kick Energy podcasts. To be a queer woman in football right now is amazing because there is so much happening. We're not just copying the pathway that the men have gone down, we are creating a new and better pathway, and I am so here for it.”

On Goal Diggers FC’s creativity

“The club is very good at making the most of people's skills and talents. The zine came about during Covid when it was like, how do we keep this community going when we can't physically be on the pitch together? Murder on Zidane’s floor has a committee that makes it happen and we have a flurry of designers who do kits and merch. We have a lot of journalists too and we’re thinking of documenting some of the 40+ players' stories – some members in their 50s and 60s hadn’t kicked a ball in 30 years but played for Crystal Palace’s first women’s team. We all have busy lives but we’re all focused on pushing the club forward.”

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Photography Abigail Morris

About the Author
Felicia Pennant


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