Sometime in December 2010, Brian Silk, Bexley Invicta FC’s founder, chose a date to start playing football. That date was Saturday 15th January 2011. Brian: “Looking back, mid-January was probably not the best time of year to try to get people together to play football, given it can be cold, dark and wet, but I was keen to get on with it.”
Brian chose Danson Park as the venue for that first kickabout, on the basis that it was a well-known place and easy to get to.
The role of Leftfooters FC in this first kickabout deserves a special mention. Brian’s old club offered to ask its players to go along in order for it to be viable, as Brian explains in this short film recorded a couple of hours before:
‘Footers that came along on that day were Warren Palmer, Richy Collumbell, Anthony Handley, Steve Sawyer and Oli Daly. Bexley Invicta players were Brian Silk, Simon Baverstock and Derek Jackson. Brian recalls: “Eight players enabled us to have a 4-aside kickabout (with ‘jumpers for goalposts,’ in the tradition of Leftfooters) and have a group of people for a drink at the Danson Stables pub afterwards.”
The first few kickabouts were critical in determining whether the club would take off or collapse due to lack of numbers. A few Leftfooters supported the next couple of kickabouts and further Bexley players started coming, such as Anthony Ellison, Sam Thorpe, Mike Horwood and Tak Leung Hung (Lawrence). Brian: “The likes of Simon, Del, Anthony, Sam, Mike and Lawrence turned up, which was a relief in itself. But more importantly, they kept coming back. We had Bexley players, so we had a football club.”
Local and gay media had reported on the club’s formation, and very soon after the first kickabout, Brian was contacted by various people and organisations who were interested in a gay-friendly club having been set up in the area – BBC Radio Kent, Kent FA, and Bexley Police.
Just a few days after that first kickabout, Brian was contacted by the Julia George show on BBC Radio Kent and on 20 January 2011 gave his first interview to the media about the club and his reasons for setting up, and exploring what it means to be a gay-friendly football club and the role such clubs play. You can hear that interview here.
A few days later, Kent FA’s Chief Executive, Paul Dolan, wrote to Brian to ask if Bexley Invicta FC wanted to affiliate to Kent FA. At first, Brian was questioning of Kent FA as to why Bexley Invicta had any need to be involved with affiliated football, since it expected to play other gay-friendly clubs and in gay-friendly leagues, which is non-affiliated football. However, over a few emails, Brian was persuaded that Bexley Invicta could help Kent FA’s Equalities Advisory Group in its aim of ‘providing football opportunities for everyone, regardless of … sexuality’, and so the relationship built from there.
Bexley Police’s approach to Bexley invicta came towards the end of February 2011, when they asked if the club wanted to play a match against the Police football team at Welling United ‘to show the LGBT community that we have good links with key individuals such as yourself, and that the police are approachable by the LGBT community of Bexley Borough.’ More about our match against the Police at Welling, below.
Reflecting on those contacts by Kent FA, Bexley Police and BBC Radio Kent, club founder Brian Silk, says, “I didn’t expect this kind of interest in the club and it wasn’t exactly welcome. It was hard enough getting the club going and starting to build it up without extra things to do and think about. The match against the Police needed players and we had very few committed players at that stage. And talking on the radio abut the club and its significance meant I had to think through issues that I hadn’t really considered in detail before and how to articulate them. This was not why I set up the club, but I soon saw that this profile and interest went with the territory; with being ‘the only gay in the village’ – only, unlike Dafydd Thomas, in Little Britain, we really were the only ‘gay in the area’ and still are.
“It was tempting to just say ‘no’ to the offers coming forward. But then I thought about those LGBT people and others who might want to play gay-friendly football and how I could perhaps help. It seemed churlish not to.”
As part of recruiting gay players to the club, early March 2011 saw Brian Silk, Mike Horwood and Simon Baverstock head down to The Ship pub in Rochester and, wearing football kit with a stuck-on paper club badge, try to interest the pub’s punters in the club. Brian: “I don’t think we were successful in getting any new players that evening, but we were getting our name out there. Also, this was all part of building up the social side of the club and the beginnings of the club being a place to form friendships.”
The club’s activities were starting to take off – with the kickabouts continuing, potential matches coming though and social activities starting to happen. To help with these and to begin to plan the club’s future, it was around March/April that the club’s committee started to form. The first meeting was probably on Tuesday 12th April in Brian’s flat in Erith. [The emails about trying to arrange the first meeting are not clear.] The initial committee members were Brian Silk, Anthony Ellison, Simon Baverstock and Derek Jackson, and Michael Horwood joined in soon after.
Bexley Invicta FC’s first-ever match was with gay-friendly football club, GFC Bournemouth, on 20th March 2011. It was a 7-aside match, played at Goals, Bexleyheath. Bexley Invicta lost 14-0 to the south coasters, but the result did not matter. Bexley Invicta was a football club that actually played games against other clubs! Although Leftfooters, Warren and Richy, were in the squad, seven were some of Bexley’s new players: Simon Baverstock, Mike Horwood, Sam Thorpe, Anthony Ellison, Derek Jackson, Tak Leung Hung and Brian Silk. The club was starting to look as if it was viable.
Three weeks later, Bexley Invicta travelled to Old Deer Park, Richmond, to play only their second game, this time against London Falcons FC, a gay-friendly football club based in south west London. Brian Silk remembers the significance of that match in the history of the club: “Much to our delight (and a little bit of shock), we won that game 7-2. I think it fair to say that the Falcons didn’t put out their strongest side – this was a fairly informal friendly – but it was nevertheless a great feeling to win and the confidence that gave us.” You can read the match report here. it includes that Sam Thorpe scored Bexley Invicta’s first-ever goal in a game.
Bexley Police had asked Bexley Invicta if they wanted to play a match against their football team, at Welling United’s Park View stadium – see above. The two teams settled on Sunday 15th May 2011 as the date to play the fixture. Not only was this match a milestone for the club and an exciting opportunity to play at the ground of a professional football club, but it was also a high-profile match intended to show good relations between the Police and local LGBT community. Bexley’s Borough Commander and the Deputy Mayor of Bexley would be in attendance, and coverage in various media was expected.
There was also a trophy to play for and the question of what that trophy should be called or referred to. Brian Silk was instrumental in the naming of the trophy: “I immediately thought of naming the trophy after Aslie Pitter MBE, a Stonewall FC player who had received his honour in recognition of his role in establishing the UK’s first-ever gay football club. Plus Aslie is a south Londoner and I knew him to be a great role model for gay men playing football and for football itself.” The Police agreed to Brian’s suggestion and so Bexley Invicta FC played Bexley Police FC for the inaugural Aslie Pitter MBE Trophy.
This was another match where the result was secondary to the significance of the event (Bexley lost 3-0 – read our match report here). As Brian puts it, “In terms of the development of our football-playing, our match against the Police at Welling United was not important. Instead, it was primarily an exciting day out for the club, and the stuff of ambitions-achieved and long-lasting memories.” You can see some pictures from the day, here, and coverage in the Bexley Times, here.
Bexley Invicta FC had only been going for four months when they played the Police at Welling and, although new players were gradually joining the club, there were nowhere near enough committed players for a full squad. It is perhaps fitting for a trophy named after a Stonewall FC player that something like eight players in Bexley Invicta’s squad that day were donated by Stonewall.
Bexley Invicta FC were starting to get matches under their belt and next was an unexpected match against well-established gay-friendly club, Brighton Bandits, on 23rd May 2011, which they “lost” 9-4. Bexley had expected to play in a small tournament, but ended up playing a 7-aside game of 2 x 25 minutes, followed by two more “halves” of 15 minutes each. Read the match report here.
The club returned to Brighton a couple of weeks later to play in their first-ever tournament, that year’s GFSN summer 5-aside tournament. They had to combine with players from Exeter Lions, to be ‘Bexeter,’ and the report shows that Bexley Invicta had a good tournament and were continuing to make good progress as a club of increasingly-experienced players. 2011’s GSFN Tournament was also the first time the club had stayed overnight (two nights, actually) and experienced how enjoyable some of the social aspects of LGBT-friendly football in the UK can be.
Up until this point, Bexley Invicta did not have our their own kit, instead having to borrow or share with others. The club’s first kit was sponsored by Bar 286, thanks to Stephen Thompson, the Lewisham bar’s manager. Brian’s recollection is that it was he and Simon Baverstock who decided on the kit to get, with the obvious condition that it was basically blue. Brian: “I seem to remember Stephen suggesting a certain Adidas kit and I liked the ‘cobalt blue’ option, which was also close to the colour I’d used for the club badge. I think both Simon and I were keen on white shorts and white socks. For me, white has a clean look about it. Little did I realise how difficult it would be to keep the whites white, especially after a muddy game!”
Bexley Invicta were able to wear their brand new kit at London Gay Pride 2011, at the beginning of July. You can see some further pictures here. Brian gives his perspective on that day: “So much of what we were doing in those early days were ‘firsts’ for the club, and also important for gelling a group of people into teammates. By going to Pride that year, we were continuing to announce our presence and raise our profile. We were also taking our place amongst the other gay-friendly clubs and their role within the LGBT-community. We were increasing part of the LGBT football world and the wider LGBT scene. Pride was, of course, also a great social day out for the club – an aspect that is a feature of LGBT-friendly football and critical to the growth and development of Bexley Invicta.”
Bexley Invicta continued their outreach work, in the summer of 2011, by having stalls at Bexley Council’s Danson Festival (courtesy of space provided by Bexley Police on their stall) and Lewisham’s People’s Day, with the aim of finding new players and supporters. Brian: “We were trying out ideas for getting the word out about the club and perhaps getting new people involved. And we were also having a good time doing so.” You can see pictures from the Danson Festival, here, and Lewisham People’s Day, here.
It was a small, but growing, football club that had the confidence to hold its first-ever End of Season Dinner for 2010-11, which was at Ming of the Avenue in Bexleyheath on 9th July 2011. There was just one award that first year, with Tak Leung Hung becoming Player of the Season.
Bexley Invicta saw out that Season by taking park in a charity football tournament and fun day, in aid of Bexley Help 4 A hero, on 24th July, at Meridian Sports Ground in Charlton Park Lane. Brian says, “I can’t remember a lot about how we did in that tournament and I think we joined forces with players from other gay-friendly clubs. I do remember it was a fun day. It was all part of a period where everything was new and exciting. A brand new gay-friendly football club for south east London and Kent – my dream – had actually happened, and Bexley Invicta FC were doing all the things football clubs do and looking increasingly as if it was going to stick around.”
BY BRIAN SILK, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN 2011-2015