Bristol City Panthers FC and Charlton Invicta FC are the first competitive LGBT teams in the country to have a formal affiliation with a professional club. And to mark this pioneering step in LGBT inclusion in football, the two teams met for an historic friendly in Bristol on Sunday 17 March. After a spirited and competitive contest, Panthers emerged victorious over Charlton with a 1-0 victory.
Any signs of sore heads from a Saturday night out in Bristol were well-concealed as both sides started out aggressively, with Charlton pushing forward from the get-go. The defensive line of Pete, Carl and Jonathan were kept busy early, with wing-backs Tom and Devon providing useful support for the breaks out from the back. Charlton had the better of the early chances, with a shot from the visitors forcing a save out of keeper Alex, and the follow-up strike rattling the crossbar.
The Panthers fought back, however, and striker Steve almost got a shot away after a strong counter-attack, and fellow-forward Charlie coming close. Wingback Devon also hit a brilliant lopping strike, and he would have gotten away with it if it wasn't for that pesky cross-bar.
The sides continued to fight back and forth with the midfield trio of Scott, Dean and Stu doing plenty of excellent work in the heart of the pitch. It felt inevitable that one of the sides would make a breakthrough, and it was Panthers who produced a well-worked team goal to break the deadlock. Tom Marlow's through ball from the right hand side found Dean May surging forward from midfield. Dean powered into the box and put the ball to Tom Wren who struck the ball into the bottom corner.
The Panthers dug in for the remainder of the second half, and saw off some strong attacks from Charlton. A free kick just off the edge of the area threatened to cause problems, and Charlton won a couple of corners which forced the Panthers to defend. And before the second half, Captain Stu picked up a yellow card for a trip on an Invicta player. But the Panthers hung on and went into the break with a strong lead.
The second half saw some changes for the Panthers as Kevin Basham came on in defence, and Dan replaced Tom on the right wing. The second half saw both teams struggle to break out of the midfield, although Charlie was unlucky in slotting a ball just wide of the Invicta post. Charlton began to surge forward in the final stretch of the game, creating some problems for the defensive line - many admirably seen out by super-sub Glenn. The visitors' best opportunity came when an awry tackle from Jonathan (who maintains he got the ball!) felled an Invicta player just on the edge of the area. Thankfully for the hosts the free kick was gathered up safely by keeper Miles.
Striker Mike Green came on for the dying moments of the game, looking to add to his recent goal rush and he and sub Ajmal looked to create some chances. However, after some further midfield tussels, the referee blew the whistle, extending their unbeaten streak to 6 matches. Man of the match honours were shared between the indefatigable Scott and Pete.
The victory was, however, the icing on the cake for a celebration of LGBT inclusion in football. Both Panthers and Invicta have been pioneers in affiliating to EFL clubs, demonstrating how LGBT football teams can enrich local communities and encourage diversity in top flight teams. And as both teams celebrated a hard-fought match in the Bristol Bear Bar afterwards, there was an opportunity to reflect on how this fixture marked such a big step forward in celebrating #footballforall. Huge thanks go especially to the Bristol City and Charlton Athletic Community Trusts for their support for both clubs and for the match.
And special thanks also to our local neighbours Bristol Rovers Community Trust, who hosted members of both teams for Charlton Athletic's clash at the Memorial Ground on Saturday afternoon.