Fuelling Creativity & Feeding The Culture: Whippets FC

Photography: Vic Lentaigne / Interview: Tom Everest / Words: Liberty Papworth
5th July 2019

As part of Nike’s campaign to launch the new Premier League Merlin ball, we collaborated with five teams who represent the different pillars of London’s grassroots football culture. To embody the spirit that The Ball Means More, we explored the real power of women’s football across the city via the incredible initiatives that will inspire the next generation of ballers. With a commitment to transforming lives, the ones changing the game might just be the ones who change the world.

 

Their strong ethos and aesthetic shines through everything they do. A group of talented creatives off the pitch – musicians, photographers, creative directors, and more, yet for Whippets FC, football is not just a way to further express their creative minds. It is more. A form of group meditation, rest bite. Every week they venture away from their creative worlds to play on the fields of Hackney’s infamous Mabley Green.

 

Football is the fuel to their creativity and the heart to their community. For many of the women who make up the team, the game has been a life-changer. London can be a lonely place, but Whippets FC have been the open home they’ve needed. It’s not just a game or a squad. It’s a family. 

 

Whippets FC are redefining what role the game can play in women’s lives. Not only can it power creativity, it can create a new form of culture – a culture which women deserve. We caught up with the whole squad, and spoke to captain Sarah-Jayne Todd, to find out how Whippets continue to showcase the community and creativity of the club, as well as women’s football on a whole.

How would you describe the grass roots football scene across the capital?

 

It’s super exciting. It’s growing at such a fast pace and it’s inspiring to see. There’s been a handful of women’s teams around for a while who set a very high standard already. Now with the amount of women getting involved in football we’re seeing a big lift in initiatives and identity from the get go. The bar is constantly being raised with identity being at the very core of a teams roots.

 

Do you feel like there is a football revolution right now in the capital when it comes to grass roots?

 

It does definitely feel that way but then we have fully immersed ourselves in it too. Some of the competitions we’ve been a part of this year feel like they are pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with grassroots football and the platforms grassroots football is being given. It’s a very special community to be a part of. The sense of belonging that comes with it does feel revolutionary for someone who felt that football was no longer an option.

 

Why is London the perfect breeding ground for clubs like yours to succeed?

 

London has the facilities readily available and the leagues set up. You can pull together a team overnight and be playing in a league the following week. A few friends and I had the idea of forming a team but without a push from Shazza who runs the Super5league I don’t know if we would have formed. These leagues already exist and after the initial enquiry, the encouragement that came from him was hard to say no to. The energy, support and general set up which is already established in London is incredible. I don’t think it exists anywhere else in the UK at the moment for grassroots football.

What makes Whippets FC so unique? 

 

We see Whippets as an output for the team members to really be able to focus on their love of football; whether they are wanting to get back into playing or begin playing again. Overtime this has continued to grow some of the members who weren’t so interested in the sport but now also have found love in the game. The social element that comes with that and the team bond we have formed feels like a family. The ethos of the club is for us to have time out from our day to day and enjoy being on the pitch together and supporting each other week-in-week-out. The benefits that come with that are above and beyond anything we realised.

 

When was the moment that Whippets FC transferred from an idea to reality?

 

I think it became a reality when we turned up to the first training session. A group of people who agreed to commit to a team. Some knew each other some didn’t but everyone brought such passion to the first session. We had a few tiny training goals and set up a rather basic pitch but we played for hours until we were kicked out of the park. We re-grouped for a pint after and it really did feel like the beginning of something very special.

 

Just how important has football been in uniting the entire team together?

 

We’re there for each other no matter the situation. This has all stemmed from joining the team and committing to playing football. There is a great sense of unity in team, through playing together and forming those friendships and bonds.

Without football, how different would yours and the entire team’s lives actually be?

 

We all comment on a weekly basis how we genuinely cannot imagine nor remember our lives before the Whippets. For some of us it’s brought more of a routine, for some true friends. It continues to change us daily. Some of the girls felt isolated in London not being from the city and the mental positives that the Whippets bring for us is something I don’t think we could have found elsewhere.

 

Do you feel with the incredible work and initiatives that you guys are putting in – alongside an array of other teams across the UK – that women’s football is finally receiving the recognition it deserves? 

 

We’d like to hope so. I think one turning point from all of this upward trajectory has been the Women’s World Cup. That feels like a very visible change which has been a long time coming. To be televised on the BBC and make headlines worldwide. In all honestly, it felt on the same level as the men’s from a year ago and that is a huge achievement. The buzz and interest around the World Cup has exceeded our expectations.

 

Hopefully this is an insight in the change to come and will carry through to the Women’s Super League and throughout the game and be reflected in crowds, interest and also pay for the women who have the talent to be the best and strive to be the best. It needs to inspire the next generation if we want this to continue and we feel women’s football is currently doing so.

Tell us about some of the personalities and characters of Whippets FC and how all of your work ties together in the club’s ethos?

 

Each individual on the team makes up such an important part of what Whippets is about. I think having such a strong team of personalities is why we’ve had such unexpected growth. We’re a mix of creatives, photographers, musicians, artists and presenters. Combining our different talents is how we all drive the team in such an interesting direction. We hope from doing things naturally it will allow people to see that football can be played with ease and and committing to a team is incredibly rewarding.

 

More than any other team, Whippets reflects its sense of identity through its own unique aesthetic and particularly its kit. Do you think your strong aesthetic improves the impact that you guys are having beyond the sport?

 

You get a real sense of pride putting on a kit even for a 5-a-side game with two people watching on the sidelines. We want to make sure the kit does the same for all of us, showing our personality through the design and our identity. We have a lot of incredibly talented people on the team so we’re quite spoilt for resources when it comes to the design side of things. There’s individuals in the team who are excelling and pushing boundaries in different industries so I think you naturally see a crossover with this.

What’s the most important message for Whippets FC?

 

I think just to keep having fun with what we are doing. Whippets was created as a release for us all and it always needs to be that thing we have as a form of escapism. We are there to support one another and we always want people involved us to feel the benefit of that.

 

Do you think there is any barriers that football can’t break?

 

Football has the potential to change a lot of things and make a difference for so many people. It’s going in the right direction the general behaviour and old habits and negative connotations that are tied to football are beginning to change. The positive energy around the game now will hopefully inspire the younger generations to bring a new approach to the game which can only lead to good results.

 

What does receiving a new ball – like the new Nike Merlin – mean to you? 

 

To be playing with the ball which is about to be used in the Premier League is amazing. We’re about to be using the same balls week-in-week-out that are the best designed for technique and accuracy. The football signifies putting everyone on the same level, the ball is the essential element and allows you to play anywhere. So, to push this through to grassroots football is also changing the game in a big way. 

 

Pick up the Nike 2019/20 Premier League Merlin ball at Nike.com

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Issue 02: Heart & Soul
Ada Hegerberg, Andre Gray, Maya Jama, Andreas Perreira, Christian Pulisic
GAFFER Issue 02: ‘Heart & Soul.’ Honouring the way football cultivates community spirit, empowers the next generation and gives fans, teams and players something bigger and more beautiful to believe in. Be prepared to meet the people who are driving the culture to new heights and those who are set to change the face of the game forever.
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