It’s very much still thought of as a straight man’s sport, which is bizarre considering the Women’s World Cup is currently playing, and on the back of the recent success of The Lionesses. But as Nell Bailey’s Pitch reminds us in its opening scenes, the first women footballers were predominantly queer. And it is the reclaiming of football by queer people that is the focus of this fun and upbeat play.
We meet the Muddy Studs, a grassroots team in London that is open to everyone. The team play predominantly for fun, and the pub quiz after the final whistle is almost as important the actual game itself. The story is predominantly told from the perspective of Bill (Elijah Harris) a trans man who is the newest member of the team to join.
The other team-members share their stories with Bill, recounting how they came to be part of the Muddy Studs. There are a couple who met and bonded over a love of football, and a brother and sister, one of whom had a chance at playing professionally, but faced intense homophobia.
Each of the team’s stories unfold in a very natural way, and despite the subject always manages to sound hopeful. Bursts of dance music and fast paced choreography also keep spirits up, while at the same time demonstrating the more physical aspects of the game.
Pitch also features recorded voiceovers, we assume, though it’s never made clear, that these disembodied voices are related to football in some way, and their own experiences are very interesting to hear, even if they don’t add much to the overall story. Sometimes the cast mouth the words being spoken, and this is particularly distracting. One because it’s done in such an over the top way, and secondly because it takes away from the authenticity of the characters actually being portrayed.
Pitch does an excellent job of kicking away the heteronormative aspects of the beautiful game, and simply concentrates on the beauty of those who play it. It would have been very easy to write a dark and brooding play about homophobia and transphobia in football, instead the company have chosen to celebrate the sport, and the grassroots teams who are doing so much to be inclusive.