First and foremost, what’s your involvement in football?
I’m Sophie Cook and I was the club photographer for AFC Bournemouth, from the days when we were in League 1 to the first couple of seasons in the Premier League. At the moment we were promoted to the Premier League was when I realised I had to transition and come out as being transgender. I’m also an ambassador for Kick It Out and a patron of Just A Ball Game.
Since I came out, I’ve spoken at Wembley Stadium, Old Trafford, Arsenal, Liverpool; I’ve spoken at conferences all over the country for various groups including Kick It Out and Pride in Sport - it’s been great because people have decided to listen to what I have to say and I’ve been given that opportunity to try and change the dialogue around inclusion and diversity within the game.
How did Bournemouth support you in your transition during that time?
The first thing was I still had a job- which I wasn’t entirely sure was going to happen. But when I came out to management, Eddie Howe turned around to me and said, “How can I make this easier for you?”
The thing is, when you come out you can’t expect everyone to just understand straight away, but if your boss says that, that’s all you can hope for. I told him I needed to meet the players before a match day and it was arranged for me to go and shoot a training session. All the guys were off warming up in the corner of the training field and Eddie Howe came up to me asked if I was scared. I told him, “You know what, for the first time in my life I am completely at ease with who I am, so no I’m not.”
They called all the players together, and Jason Tindall our Assistant Manager, said, “I suppose you’ve noticed our photographer has changed a bit since last season, grown her hair out. I’d like you all to meet Sophie.”
Then our captain Tommy Elphick just started clapping and the rest of the players joined in, and then carried on training.
I’d built this up so much in my head I expected it to be a really big thing, but the reality was; they got a new piece of information, now let’s get on with work. And that was it. I sat down after the training session and spoke to some of the players and told them about my history with self-harming and suicidal feelings - it was important that they knew this wasn’t a whim, they knew that this was actually saving my life.
The players and the management were all amazing and the fans especially gave me so much love and support. I’ve had death threats on twitter, but for every one abusive message I get, I receive hundreds of supportive ones. I had friends who were scared for me to go back to football, and said I’d get so much abuse- verbal abuse and physical abuse and the reality was I received so much love and respect from people that it surprised me. I wasn’t expecting it.
Sophie at an AFC Bournemouth game.
I think in the 2 years since I came out, the game has come on a lot - the fact that rainbow laces gets so much support now and various other things, and the fact there are so many LGBT fan groups - Bournemouth have just launched their one and I’m really proud to be a patron of it. It's great we’re getting that, because people say to me, does it actually change anything? What it does change is that it lets people who are scared of going back to football know that there are people there who will support them.
I hear stories about trans fans who have had season tickets for decades, and because they’ve transitioned they decided they can’t go back to football. That breaks my heart! If you’ve had a season ticket for decades, that club is part of your DNA.
Part two of our interview with Sophie will be out later this week - but in the meantime head through to her website for more information.