Isabella Borg, better known as Bella, is the London FA Investigations Officer working in our Discipline department.
Outside of work, Bella plays for Goal Diggers FC and Hackney Lionesses. She is also signed up for the London FA 100FC programme so she can obtain her coaching qualifications and add to the growing female workforce in London grassroots football.
As part of our Rainbow Laces campaign, Bella has opened up about her experience of coming out as gay and how football has helped support her in her journey to become more accepting of who she is.
Could you tell us about your coming out story?
Please click here for more information on Rainbow Laces and how you can show your support
I did not openly identify myself as gay until earlier this year. Like many others during this pandemic, I have taken a lot of time to evaluate my life: who I am, the direction I want to go in and what is important to me. That is not just in terms of my professional career, but my personal life as well. So far, the pandemic has seen me change careers, come out as gay to both my friends and family, start a new relationship with a woman and move into London. Ironically, it appears that during a time of supposed standstill and lockdown, my life has changed substantially and for the better. I have become more accepting of who I am.
What put you off coming out before then and how did you family and friends react when you came out to them?
Being honest, I always knew myself I was bisexual/gay. I had a few experiences as a young adult where I felt that I would be treated differently if I identified as gay which put me off coming out. Unfortunately, there are people still out there who are homophobic either directly or indirectly. As a young person, I wasn’t ready to accept who I was especially when I believed society wasn’t ready to accept me either.
I came out to my family shortly after entering my first relationship with a woman a few months ago. Both my mother and brother were incredibly supportive. I had come out to a close friend beforehand. Admittedly, I was nervous because I was unsure about how they would react, however, truthfully there wasn’t much of a reaction! They smiled and said they were happy for me; the conversation was completely normal. It was the same with my mother and brother. My brother joked that he had always known and that he was happy for me.
Honestly, my dad was slightly confused when I told him. I think he was concerned this might be a phase, mostly likely because he had only known me to be in a relationship with a man. Despite this, I know he supports me and will come to understand my sexuality. I realise I am quite lucky compared to the experiences of others.
How has football supported/affected you in your coming out journey?
I joined Goal Diggers FC (GDFC) in the summer of 2019. GDFC are openly supportive of the LGBT+ community and have created an environment whereby people are able to be and identify themselves as their true self. Joining GDFC was of dual benefit; not only had I restarted playing the sport that I have lived and breathed for my 27 years, but I finally felt comfortable enough to accept who I am.
I am a strong believer that as individuals, we perform at our best when we are in an environment which makes us comfortable. Playing football for GDFC is incredible as not only am I fulfilling childhood dreams of scoring goals (albeit at Clapham Common and not Wembley), but it has created a safe environment for me. This has enabled me to accept many different components of myself, including my sexuality. I now feel that I am my true authentic self instead of a person which had formed as a result of circumstances and desire to fit into the ‘social norm’.
Do you think homophobia exists in football?
I have not encountered any homophobic abuse whilst playing football and my experience has been incredibility positive so far. It would be ignorant to say that homophobia doesn’t exist in football. There is a reason why there are no openly gay or bisexual players in the male professional game - it is because they are not comfortable to do so. I hope (in the not so distant future) this will change. It would send a loud message that football really is for all.
Do you think there is more football could do to support the LGBT+ community?
Generally, football can and should do more. As advanced as football is, it is incredibly backward in the representation of the LGBT+ community.
Open support for the LGBT+ community and their inclusivity in football should be presented at both grassroots level and in the elite game. With the likes of Harry Kane, Jordan Henderson and Magdalena Eriksson wearing rainbow-coloured captain armbands in support of the Rainbow Laces campaign last weekend, at grassroots, steps should similarly be taken by all those involved in football to exhibit their support of the campaign.
Players can show their support by wearing rainbow laces. Clubs can exhibit their support by using their social media to voice their support to the campaign and by publishing zero-tolerance policies on discrimination relating to sexual orientation. These are just a few examples.
Awareness is especially important at youth level as this is where players are developing as people, not just as footballers. Some youth players will have started questioning their sexuality. They need, and deserve to be, to be in a club environment which makes them comfortable and where they know they will be accepted regardless of how they identify.
Although there has been a great deal of progression in promoting the LGBT+ community, there will still be people refusing to wear rainbow laces or show their support through fear that people may think that they are gay in doing so. This is where open discussions and education on ‘allyship’ is vital. This could simply be a coach going up to one of their players who are refusing to wear laces, for example, and talking to them about allyship and the significance it has in raising awareness.
Those associated with football should not be afraid to tackle homophobia head-on and education is a powerful tool in which to do so.