The phrase that ‘it takes a community’ rings true for Baesianz FC, a London-based football team for women, trans and non-binary people of Asian heritage. The club's main priority is creating a safe space where people of all abilities can feel comfortable playing the game.
After seeing a lack of Asian representation within women’s football, artist and goalkeeper Nicole Chuilco-founded Baesianz FC with Sami Kimberley and Sarah Khan to provide safe space for those who wanted to play football. Within the first week they had 70 sign up and a few months later had to begin a waitlist due to unprecedented interest.
Interest and investment in women’s football has been on a steady rise for the past five years and last summer the Lionesses success at the European Championship catapulted the game into stardom. However, for Nicole and her teammate Arooj Khan it was difficult to feel included within that as there were no Asian women in the squad despite having an interest in the game from a young age.
Arooj grew up in the shadows of the West Ham stadium in East London. “During the mid 90s the club was a really hostile place and there was a huge racial element to that.
"I have horrible memories of my dad coming back from places that he was working on a match and being beaten up. If West Ham were playing, we didn’t leave the flat. We would stay at home. Where I live, the club is very much entrenched in people’s identities so I was forced to engage with football.
I really enjoyed team sport but I never really found the space for it because it was usually a space for white boys to play,” Arooj said.
It was these experiences that led Arooj to disassociate herself from the game until a friend encouraged her to join Baesianz FC last year.
“I was a bit apprehensive but I went to the training and it was an incredibly welcoming community and the complete antithesis of what I grew up thinking football was.”
Football has always been a part of Nicole’s childhood. “I really loved the fact that it was a way to channel my inner aggression,” Nicole remembers.
“When I was younger I didn’t engage with football because it was very male-dominated. That prevented me from being a fan of a club. My dad was a Spurs fan but didn’t participate in the fan culture so establishing a passion for it is something new in my life.
"Ever since joining the grassroot football community in London, I have started to approach football from a holistic point of view. Baesianz FC hasn’t been around for long but we have bonded really quickly.
“As Asian people we are often portrayed in the media as a monolith and Baesianz FC really breaks that barrier because we are all so different. It’s not just a specific type of Asian heritage, it’s really different groups of people coming together and that’s special.
During the European Championship campaigns, Nicole saw there were no South Asians or East Asians included.
Reflecting on this, Nicole said: “It kickstarted a fire within me. I was pretty much the only person of colour on my previous football team and it was a huge wake-up call. I didn’t really think of it as a strange thing at the time because I just wanted to play football.
“I thought about what I was standing for when I was on the team and I didn’t feel heard when talking about those issues. A big passion of mine has also been bringing people together and I really like what Baesianz FC as an art form stands for. It felt like a more refreshing take on football.”
For Arooj, representation was a motivation to join the team but the colonial history of England, together with the implications it has today, made it difficult to engage with the national team and England's football culture. “I always live by the mantra that if you can’t see it, you can’t be it,” she said.
“There have been quite a few decent Asian players at club level and not seeing them reflected in the club was really disheartening. I lost interest really quickly. It reminded me of how much we disengage with English nationalism, there’s still a lot of trust to be earned and the history of men’s English football,” Arooj added.
Diversity and representation remains a huge issue within women’s football. As Nicole puts it, “inclusion is a necessity, not a novelty.
“Diversity gets talked about as an afterthought in the women’s game and that really frustrates me. It shouldn’t have to be that way. I really want to push for BaesianzFC to be included in spaces that we traditionally were excluded from,” she says.
Arooj explains that the solution is a multifaceted one. “There’s a lack of welcoming safe spaces, there needs to be more airtime given to Asian female footballers and there needs to be more accountability from those in power regarding racism.”
Community has always been an integral element of Asian culture and this is what makes Baesianz FC more than just a football club. They prioritise being a safe space in a football environment that for so long has excluded Asian people. As Nicole says: “Feeling safe is the core of feeling included.”
Keep up to date and find more information about Baesianz FC on their website.