This year marks a decade since Hackney Laces was set up. It’s a community supported and run football club in the heart of East London hoping to empower girls and women through football. In addition to the sport, Hackney Laces also offers support with training opportunities, work experience and mentoring. They also have three sister clubs: Limehouse Laces, South London Laces and Manchester Laces, creating a strong and impactful community across the country to increase women’s participation in the game.
PENALTY sat down with founder Katee Hui to discuss her vision, her inspiration and what this milestone means to her.
Taking influence from her mum who was a figure skater and swimmer, Katee’s was also encouraged to explore different sports. “The fact that she was athletic, she wanted us to be involved in sport and that was important to her. We had her as a role model and normalised sport in our house as something we do for leisure,” she said.
Katee, 38, grew up playing in her local community in Canada where she had coaches and role models who were also part of this growth.
However, in her move to East London, she noticed a huge disparity in the opportunities that were available for women and through this founded Hackney Laces.
“I found it by accident because so many girls in my area would ask me where they could play and there weren’t places for them. I couldn’t find anywhere and so I set us up in a park near my house.”
Hackney Laces are now based at Dalston’s Petchey Academy where they have access to a pitch.
However, in the ten years that the club has been running Katee has also faced a lot of obstacles. “A lot of people said ‘no’ to anything I would ask,” she told PENALTY.
“Or people would tell me about why it wouldn’t work. That was the thing I found mind blowing. We just wanted the same insurance that everyone else had. Those barriers I found frustrating. I personally felt like I was fighting for their rights and that really fires me up,” she added.
It was this fire that motivated Katee to keep pushing until the answer was a yes. In 2018 she won the Sports Personality Unsung Hero for London Award and had the opportunity to meet her favourite sporting heroes and legends. It was a sign that things were changing.
During the Lionesses heroic summer tournament, Katee was at an airport during one of the games and saw three men huddled around their phones cheering on the Lionesses. “They were not people you would expect to be watching the Lionesses win and it made me think culture has changed.
“The perception of women’s football has been growing and the EUROs was the cherry on the top. There were so many voices and initiatives off the back of how well England performed. That gradual momentum made people reconsider and think twice about the perception of the game,” Katee reflected.
While there still remains a huge problem of diversity within women’s football, Hackney Laces are at the forefront of trying to tackle it.
“One of the biggest things we need is a strategic review of where you’re recruiting talent from. There aren’t talent acquisition centres in the cities and traditionally people living in the suburbs are richer and people in inner cities are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
“That is the biggest reason you’re not seeing representation. It’s a systematic structure that doesn’t favour diversity. At Hackney Laces we will do everything to back our players who want to make it. We will pay for train fares, be chaperones, call scouts or go to the talent centres to help our girls if that’s their dream.
“It shouldn’t have to be that way. At Laces we don’t think logistics and income should play a role in how someone gets to represent their country. If someone wants to play a sport, let them.”
Having participated within the game for so long, and on so many different levels, Katee’s highlight has been watching Laces turn 10 this year. “We’ve been doing this for a decade, and I feel so proud of that. Thousands of girls have gone through our club and we’ve been able to touch the lives of so many young women in football.”
Yet, the journey is far from over. As a new mother to a young baby girl, Katee remains incredibly conscious of the barriers that remain for women throughout their lives and is determined to continue making change. She encouraged young girls to explore, give everything a try and see what they find most enjoyable. But most importantly: “Don’t let other people be the qualifiers of whether or not you’re worthy.”
Directed by Boyter & Pope
Cinematography by David Bird
1st AC - Brendan Harvey
2nd AC - Michael Mroczek
1st AD - Jonty Dawson
Sound Recordist - Henry Ley
Music - Matthew Pope
Sound Mix - Henry Ley
Colour Grade - Thomas Kumeling
Animation - Callie Campbell