Stories From the Ground: Vino Verde FC

Jonathan Tomlinson



A mixed-gender 5-a-side football team comprised of 25 dedicated members, Vino Verde FC is as solemnly grassroots as it gets. A group of friends who once enjoyed playing football together in the park on occasion were united by ‘Vino Verde maker’, Lily Rose Grant. The London-based team play in the competitive two-tier league, Play5aside. When we paid Vino Verde FC a visit last week, they explained how precarious the league was – a mere three points off holding the trophy and another three points away from relegation.

With the team comprised of students, lawyers and artists, freelance artist and Vino Verde maker Lily designed all the kits for the team and even a shirt for the ref. In a collaboration with Sports Direct, we headed down to London Bridge to see it with our own eyes and have a kick about with a few members from the team.

How did Vino Verde Start?

Every year I organise a friendly football game in the park to force all of my friends to play the beautiful game. We always had a lot of fun and would always leave the park with lofty aspirations to make it a weekly kickabout. As with most plans, these never came to fruition until they did. I made everyone sign up to a mixed league with by David, the best league manager in London), set up a very professional WhatsApp chat and got the team to bring any old white t shirts they had for us to tie-dye in the Vino Verde colours (green, pink and blue). In my head, these were going to look like a beautiful pink cloudy sky over a luscious green field but they ended up looking more like mouldy t-shirts. Since then we’ve been very blessed by some fantastic sponsorship from our friends over at Halbro.

The question we’re all wondering, how did you come up with the name?

When we finally took the administrative plunge of turning our dreams into a reality, we were having a barbecue on a hazy, summer afternoon. One of our friends had signed up for a wine subscription on an introductory deal (which, like most people, he hastily cancelled once the introductory deal had ended) and, very fortuitously, this box was filled with the slightly, unsettlingly fizzy white wine we all know and love (I asked a woman who works in Majestic and she said it is becoming a more popular wine). Gulping down this delicious drink, we were throwing out ideas for different team names. They were all so bad that I actually can’t remember a single one. Then someone said “Vinho Verde”, presumably replying to an unrelated question about what this delicious softly sparkling white wine was, but I thought it was a suggestion and I liked the sound of it so I immediately used it to sign us up. Unfortunately, I’d never learnt Portuguese, nor inspected a label of the stuff, so I didn’t actually know how to spell it. But it was too late, “Vino Verde FC” was already up in pixelated lights on the Play5aside website, and if I’m honest I couldn’t be bothered to correct it.

Named after the famous Portuguese wine - do you have any Bernardo Silvas or Diogo Jotas in your team?

We have one member who is extraordinarily good. The success or failure of a game hinges on whether or not they play. At least this is what I‘d imagine everyone is saying about me.

Did you ever see yourself mixing your passion of football and art?

It had never been my long-term goal, but I absolutely love mixing the two! It is really fun to push the boundaries of what a pattern looks like and to create a visual identity that feels distinct from the shirts we are all so used to. I'm excited to keep working on new ideas...

Mixed football seems to be getting more popular in today's game, why did you choose to make Vino Verde a mixed team?

My friends that would play football in the park for my birthday would always be mixed gender, and it felt like a fun way for us to hang out. Most of us played football for different teams, and fancied adding another fixture into our weeks. The guys have found the mixed league to be a lot more fun than some of the men’s leagues they play for - which I’ve heard can tend to get a bit aggressive and competitive. Our ethos has always been to prioritise having fun over anything else. Obviously, we sometimes get a bit competitive, but sometimes being competitive can be fun, too.

Where did the inspiration for the kit come about?

For nearly a year we were playing in our homemade tie-dye kits, which were great but they were cotton shirts which aren’t great for sweat-wicking. Halbro were kind enough to sponsor the team and offered to make us a kit with no design limitations

My main goal with designing the kit was to have fun with it. Too often football shirts are taken very seriously. So these shirt designs feature a five-a-side team of wine bottles playing football with a glass of wine in their hand. The shirt acts as the ‘pitch’ and the pattern repeats across the shirt creating a sense of movement and some dynamic 1-2 passes.

Not long after we set up the team, I had started doodling a little football-playing wine bottle mascot. Naturally, I called him Vinnie Green, an anglicisation of the team name.

The shirts have matching shorts and socks to create a camouflage effect of players on the pitch: the opposition can’t see them against the green of the astroturf. Unfortunately, teammates also can’t see each other. This seems to balance things out.

And even a kit for the ref, surely he’s biased when reffing Vino games?

Our regular ref, Dom, is the best grassroots ref I’ve ever met - he pays such close attention to the game, stops things from getting out of hand, and always remembers everyone’s name. It makes such a difference. Part of his strong moral code is that he is entirely unbribable - I actually think the more gifts we give him, the less favourably decisions fall for us.

Referees are always given such a hard time, and grassroots football relies on them. The referee keeps us all safe and measured and is a huge part of the game.

I wanted to celebrate grassroots referees through the design, I think it’s a missed opportunity that referees don’t get a new shirt for every season. I’d buy them.

Where do you see Vino Verde in 5 years?

My ultimate goal with Vino Verde is to stop playing football and just set up a fashion brand. Unfortunately, we all enjoy playing so much that I think in 5 years we will still be playing every week in London Bridge, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.

Do the games ever get heated?

We try to maintain our team ethos “have fun, chill out” in any game, but as with any game (even playing monopoly with your family), a natural competitiveness seeps out.

We try to rise above any nasty challenges or name-calling, but I’m ashamed to say that sometimes we do sink to these lows.

Shirt-pulling is always fun.

What’s the best advice you can give for anyone wanting to join a team or get into football? 

Most teams would be grateful to have more players, reach out to any grassroots team online and they’ll be sure to be able to introduce you to a team if they’re oversubscribed at the time.

I’d also recommend contacting Play5aside, as they can always hook you up with a great team to suit you!

If you’re wanting to get into football, there are so many teams that also offer training for all abilities. If you have enough friends who are also looking to play football, it’s sometimes easiest to just set a team up for yourself! We’ve welcomed so many new members since we first started and it makes me really happy to be able to give people a nice, fun space to play the game! Plus my friends are routinely injured.

Want a piece of Vino Verde FC? Purchase the shirt here.

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