By Hugo Varley
Stonewall FC and Wilberforce Wanderers enjoyed a night to remember on Friday when their Middlesex County Football League Division One match graced the home of football.
Stonewall FC were created in 1991 when their founder Aslie Pitter sought to cultivate an environment where LGBT footballers would be comfortable playing, after he had received both racist and sexual abuse during his career.
The Barnes-based club, who are now the most successful LGBT football team in Britain, were invited to play at Wembley by the FA to commemorate their partnership with the equality charity, also named Stonewall, who help organise the increasingly popular rainbow laces campaign.
Speaking to The NLP, the FA’s Senior Inclusion and Diversity Manager Funke Awoderu said: “This is a massive moment for everybody and anybody that cares about diversity in football.
“It is absolutely essential that we make sure that members of the LGBT community feel welcome when playing or even watching football and I think that events like this certainly help us to move forward in our ambitions to achieve this aim.
“There has been lots of media interest in the occasion which is great to see and it helps to show that there is a real appetite within the game to move forward on issues like this.”
The event was a hugely enjoyable occasion with over 1000 spectators coming to watch and the game being played under a rainbow coloured Wembley arch.
To top it all off, fans of Stonewall were treated to a spectacular comeback by their side to secure a 3-1 win.
Eric Najib’s side got off to a disastrous start, falling behind to an early goal as Stuart Gardner broke the deadlock by prodding home, before Wilberforce missed a golden chance to double their advantage from the penalty spot.
As the half wore on, Stonewall began to find their feet and they pulled back a deserved equaliser just before half-time as Nasar Nakhli’s looping header caught out the goalkeeper and defense alike before ricocheting over the line.
A relatively cagey second half ensued as it became increasingly clear that a moment of quality would be needed to separate the two teams.
And that is exactly what happened with 10 minutes left on the clock – Stonewall’s Mike Sholly scoring the kind of goal that dreams are made of as he rifled a stunning volley into the top corner to send the club’s players, coaches and fans into absolute pandemonium.
The result was then put behind doubt in injury-time as Ollie Rabie got on the end of a corner to power home a bullet header.
After the final whistle, Stonewall’s hero of the hour Sholly told The NLP, “It still hasn’t really sunk in yet and I think my celebration demonstrated that I had no expectation to score!
“It looked as though we were going to come off on the wrong side of the result so to have turned it around and won is brilliant.
“We owe a huge thanks to the FA because as Non-League players we never thought that we would get the chance to play at Wembley and so much has been achieved both on and off the pitch tonight.”
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