Yasmin Abdullahi is the founder of Sisterhood FC, which she believes is the first women’s Muslim football club in the UK. Here she tells her story.
It would be a dream come true to see a Muslim girl who wears a hijab play for England.
Until we see that, it will be another unattainable dream for a lot of girls – something they can’t do.
That’s why I started Sisterhood FC, because I really want to help or support the possibility of the first hijabi who plays for the Lionesses.
‘We kept equipment in lockers near the prayer room – but people would steal it’
The team began when I was at Goldsmiths University in London in 2018 and I had started reconnecting with my faith.
There was an Islamic Society in Goldsmiths and they put on an event, for Iftar, which is after you break your daily fast in Ramadan.
Everyone was just so friendly. They were asking me ‘What do you study?’. And I would tell them I studied education studies and I’m in a women’s football team for Goldsmiths – and they gasped.
They were literally asking “you wear a hijab and play football?”.
I didn’t understand why it was such a shock, because nothing made me ever stop playing sports, not if I’m a girl, not if I’m Muslim, nothing has ever come across my mind to say I shouldn’t do any type of sport.
So, for me, it was just so shocking, and honestly quite sad to see that these girls use those reasons as an excuse. So they asked, “oh, can you train us?”
I was so inspired by other Muslim girls wanting to play that I immediately got in touch with Fathiya, who worked with the Islamic Society, to help as we looked ahead to the new semester that September.
Every Muslim girl that we saw walking across campus, we would stop and ask them, ‘Can you come for one session?’.
Some were hesitant at first because they had either stopped playing sport for a long time or weren’t sure if they were capable. Exercising can be so daunting for some, although nobody came once and didn’t return the following week.
Starting up the team was the epitome of grassroots football. We had bibs, cones and footballs kindly donated by Goldsmiths and would have to be resourceful with pitch spaces. We also had no place to store football equipment, so we would leave it in the lockers near our prayer room, but people would borrow or steal it.
It was difficult to just keep certain stuff together, never mind providing a whole kit to the team.
I also remember for our first tournament, some of the girls didn’t have football trainers so we all pulled some money together and I had to go shopping that morning to collect five pairs of shoes.
Goldsmiths University donated spare kit and football equipment when the team was set up
Part of me knew football dream wasn’t going to be possible’
I first got into football after my family moved to England from Somalia when I was nine years old. Despite not really playing much back home, my primary school teacher, Mr Johnson, was impressed by how much talent I had, including my speed and touch.
I’d also play with my brother Muhammad after school, and other kids around the council flat in New Cross where I live.
I continued to play at secondary school, but I can only remember playing a few matches that we took part in against other schools. The boys were in a league every weekend, it wasn’t like that for us.
It was my dream as a young girl to grow up to be a professional footballer and I was once scouted by Charlton Athletic. I remember running home excited to tell my mum.
However, the idea that playing football and respecting my faith would be possible was a struggle for my parents.
For them, it wasn’t that I wasn’t capable of achieving the goal of becoming a professional football player or didn’t have the talent to do it, it was more the fear of me not being accepted into that culture and that I would have to compromise and sacrifice who I am, and that was the reason why they said no to me pursuing the opportunity.
Part of me knew it wasn’t going to be possible and I just accepted it.
Fifa lifted a ban on wearing hijabs in the professional game in 2014, so even if I had been able to chase my dream when I was younger, my parents were right, I just wouldn’t have been accepted.
How can an organisation as big as that have a hijab ban? It makes no sense to me and is really disheartening.
‘I dream of a Sisterhood FC franchise’
Some of the girls have said that Sisterhood FC is just more than a football team, it’s a family. If one of them needs support they can always message the team’s WhatsApp group and there’s 10 people who’ll message them back to offer advice.
People message kind words or if someone is celebrating a birthday or graduation, we celebrate each other’s success.
I feel like I’m surrounded by girls that are so inspiring. In practising or being connected to my faith, every time that I am with my team, I feel they motivate me to do better in that aspect of my life.
David Beckham was a player Yasmin looked up to as a kid and was lucky enough to meet him in 2019
We could be training and then it will be time to pray and we’d immediately stop playing, whether we’re outside or not, and pray.
I don’t think I could ever thank them enough for how they’ve helped me connect back to my faith, because I was really struggling with that.
When it comes to achieving representation in football, I think the best thing is to have people like me on platforms to raise awareness of what we are doing.
It is really that simple; it’s about representation and people seeing other people that look like them, so they can think ‘this is what is attainable’.
I always say when people ask me about this, it’s like I’m a minority, within a minority, within a minority. I’m female, Muslim and black, which makes it really hard in being accepted.
It would mean so much for young girls to see themselves represented in football, because they will look at that and think, ‘I’m not left out, I can relate to this person’.
My dream is to franchise Sisterhood FC around London, but then I want to take it around cities in the UK and then go international.
I often visit Sweden to visit my cousin, who lives in like a large Muslim community of around 10,000 people and I see lots of little girls wearing the hijab.
I know they don’t have the same support or access as me, so imagine opening a Sisterhood FC in a place like that and how many girls I could get involved in sports. It would be a dream come true.
Yasmin Abdullahi was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bell.