From a handful of people enjoying a kick to a growing group of players, officials and supporters, Belfast Blaze FC continues to grow and grow.
Billed as Northern Ireland’s first and only all-inclusive LGBTQ+ football team, the club was established in September 2019 by a small group of friends in Colin Glen.
Their aim was to embrace and encourage a “sense of belonging, to promote the acceptance and celebration of diversity” in the sport of football.
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Almost three years later, their message is reaching a wider audience, and the club are determined to attract more members ahead of potentially playing in the Sunday League this summer.
Belfast Blaze secretary Chris Dineley said: “Football is often seen as a macho sport and has often been homophobic and ostracized for individuals.
“We seek to promote the safety and well-being of the LGBTQ+ community while providing sporting and social events that promote pride, visibility, equality and inclusion.
“No judgment is passed on Belfast Blaze FC.
“When we started, we had 10 people for a kick. Now we have almost 300 Facebook members, almost 700 Instagram members and around 40 in player group chats.
“At first it was very difficult to get 10 people together for a kick off with individual LGBTQ+ concerns, but interest has certainly grown since day one.
“To be honest there are only two or three people left from the first launch party but it shows how much we have grown further. We have now had meetings with the Irish Football Association (IFA) who want to be related to us and we hold our annual general meetings at the national stadium.
Chris says the club is “tremendously proud” of what it has achieved since its inception in 2019.
He added: “Certainly. From struggling to attract 10 people for a kick to ever-growing social pages, weekly kick-off parties, practices, matches, etc. Now we’re getting attention local businesses for sponsorship.
“Things are looking up! We have a committee of seven people with the same interests, determination and goals who want to help Belfast Blaze FC struggle and continue to grow.
“We believe 100% that we can and want to grow a lot more. We want new members to arrive – whether it’s to participate in games or just to play in our kick-about parties or participate in practices – to be made new friends within our own community, etc.”
Belfast Blaze is for players aged 18+ and currently has a competitive team.
They hope to add another team in the coming months as they continue to grow in size.
“We have a competitive squad right now and then a group of people who are just interested in the social football side of things,” Chris said.
“We hope that one day we will have two competitive teams – it all depends on people’s interest and whether we gain more members.
“We recently played the Dublin Devils in the ‘Declan Flynn Cup’ where we narrowly lost 2-1 in a home and away game. The Dublin Devils are the LGBTQ+ side of Dublin as we are Belfast’s LGBTQ+ team.
“The IFA are running a pilot program for matches on a Sunday and want us to be involved – so far we have had one match at Jordanstown University. We will also be looking to enter a team next Sunday of this summer League!
“One of our goals is to take part in the Gay Footballer Supporters’ Network (GFSN). It’s a UK based competition with all the LGBTQ+ teams in the UK, but the main thing that we holding back right now is funding, a lot of travel and overnight stays would be involved.
“When we’re not competing, we schedule friendlies to keep people interested.”
Chris added: “Anyone from any background can come to Newforge on Monday nights at 8pm initially.
“This is where we hold our launch parties and intend to continue at this stage. This is where you will get a feel for Belfast Blaze and receive the additional information you need.
“If you feel the need, please contact a committee member or our social pages for more information on how to get involved.”
Chris believes Belfast Blaze have “broke down barriers” after the club launched almost three years ago.
They continue to provide a safe and welcoming environment for people of all sexual orientations to enjoy the sport of soccer.
And it’s an environment he wants to continue to promote in the weeks and months to come.
“We welcome everyone and have people currently involved, regardless of sexual orientation, religious beliefs, race, disability, etc.,” he said.
“Our team was set up for LGBTQ+ members, but anyone supporting the LGBTQ+ community is also encouraged to join!
“We provide a safe, fun and welcoming environment for everyone – that’s what Belfast Blaze is all about. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a more skilled player. We organize drills according to ability levels at training and teams at launch parties are selected equally.
“When we started – we had UK/international based sponsors – Pride Sports UK and Galaxy Smithkline (GSK) who helped us buy our first kit because before we owned a kit we borrowed kits.
“Now we have a local business sponsor, Del Pieros, who has helped us get tracksuits and polo shirts to make everyone feel more like Belfast Blaze and our team.
“We are always on the lookout for more sponsors and welcome any help to help Belfast Blaze FC grow.
“If you would like to sponsor us and be part of our exciting project, contact our social media pages or email us and someone will get back to you.”
As for anyone interested in joining, or even trying one of the energizing evenings…
“For all up to date information regarding Belfast Blaze FC, please check our Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages,” said Chris.
“Everyone is welcome to our launch party from 8-9pm every Monday at the Newforge Sports Complex on the 3G pitch – please note that due to certain public holidays – these may be cancelled.
“At the moment we have family, friends and player partners who come to support us. If you’re not interested in playing, we would like people to just come and show their support at games.
“If you want more information, want to get involved, or want to contact us and help us in any way, you can also email us at [email protected]”
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