'In 2016, Pennant founded SEASON a fashion and football platform devoted to creating a truly inclusive space for people to enjoy the sport.'Photographer Ilenia Arosio

Felicia Pennant opens her talk for the Cambridge University Women in Media society at Newnham in February by explaining her first vivid memory of football. It is the 2004 Euros final in Lisbon and that iconic image of Cristiano Ronaldo choking back tears. “I was like why is he crying, it’s football,” Pennant says. “But for some reason it stuck in my mind and I thought this is amazing. I need to follow this.”

Pennant’s local team was Chelsea. That summer another Portuguese, a suave, unflappable Jose Mourinho, arrived at Stamford Bridge and her fandom was secured. “It was an escape, something me and my Dad could do together.”

Having completed an internship at Vivienne Westwood when she was sixteen, Pennant kickstarted a career in fashion, studying at Central Saint Martins from 2009 to 2013, including a placement year in New York, followed by work at GQ.

Although she toyed with a career in sports journalism – “had there been more female broadcasters and women of colour maybe I would have reconsidered” – she is now Commissioning Editor for Dazed Beauty and contributes to Vogue.co.uk.

At the same time, as a black woman in the terraces of Stamford Bridge, her passion for football changed as she came to understand its exclusiveness all too well.

“I’m not seeing any women or many black faces here,” she recalls thinking. “I don’t think the culture’s very creative. I don’t think this represents me or any of the women around me. What can I do about this? How can I create a space where we can tell stories in our own words and express it in the way that we want to?”

So, in 2016, Pennant founded SEASON a fashion and football platform devoted to creating a truly inclusive space for people to enjoy the sport. Fashion and football are a natural fit – “kits are modes of self-expression”, as Pennant puts it, and communicate those bewildering depths of feeling football can inspire.

But by bringing the two together, Pennant also wanted to appreciate football as more than a sport, as a nexus of cultures and interests, as something that is inflected by individual style and divergent experiences. “Football fashion is very layered and you can choose where you want to fit on that scale,” she says. “It’s someone’s creative expression and how they choose to express what element of football they want to talk about at that time. It’s personal.”

Too often football has a unitary narrative (“male, pale and sometimes stale” as Season’s website brilliantly puts it). With a vibrant biannual fanzine created by a core team and a network of international collaborators – and heavily influenced by Pennant’s work for fashion magazines – SEASON uncovers football’s diversity, its heterogeneity, and its unacknowledged prejudices.

“Rituals are part of the reason people are attracted to football,” she explains. “In doing something like SEASON, it’s saying I like these things but I don’t like everything. It’s about things that can be universally enjoyed, like matchday experiences.”

“We’re all in the same football culture but we’re having different experiences and we need to talk about why that is.” She cites the absence of women’s toilets at some grounds, or the failure to provide sanitary towels.

"Ask people the same questions. Ask everyone about race, not just the black players"

Football is good at telling us to forget these differences. But beneath the glib promises of global community, there are always important social narratives.

“We did one feature about Nigeria’s cult kit which has obviously been really popular,” Pennant says. “But who’s really benefiting from this [popularity]? It’s a symbol of national pride but then some Nigerians can’t afford it. Where does this money go, and what is happening in football there if you are a girl?”

Even when mainstream media does take notice of injustices in the sport, such as the controversial 2022 World Cup in Qatar, women’s stories fall through the gaps. “Nobody talks about the women’s football culture there so we teamed up with Goal Click to share stories in that space,” Pennant explains.

Pennant draws some hope from the fact that no such reticence envelopes the anti-racism and Black Lives Matter movements. But she is emphatic: talk must be matched with action, and at the moment football’s response has been merely performative.

“My dad has a great analogy about this,” Pennant says ruefully. “If you’re on a twelve-hour train journey, are you going to give up your seat to someone who’s sitting on the floor? [What will change] remains to be seen because ultimately it’s about power and if you are in power you try to keep it.”

'We’re all in the same football culture but we’re having different experiences and we need to talk about why that is.' Issue O7 cover featuring Nikita Parris photographed by Elliot James Kennedy

The uncomfortable truth is that emblazoning your support for BLM on shirts and league branding without substantive action is just another way of shoring up that power. It is commercially convenient and provides the right ‘optics’.

For Pennant, this outward support simply does not align with her own experience of the football and media industry. “I deal with some of these people,” she says. “I know that you treat me in a certain way because I’m black and if I call it out it’s immediately offensive. I also know that for me to be where I am, I have to work harder than everyone else.”

Unconscious racial biases run deep and demand a coherent plan of anti-racism training and education. And yet there is still no timeline, no suggestion of when badges will turn into change. Instead, black players continue to bear the emotional burden.

Pennant adds: “What happened to Eni Aluko is at the forefront of my mind. She reported racism and she was gaslit for it, which is why you continue on your way, why you choose your battles, because you’ll be minimised for it.”

In 2016, Aluko was cut from the England squad after reporting bullying and discrimination by then England manager, Mark Sampson, in a confidential culture review. Aluko’s words to me and a group of student journalists before a Women in Sport panel at the Union in 2017 stay with me: “In professional sport you just want to play, you don’t want to rock the boat”.

"The goal always is for everyone to feel they have a place in football culture..."

That fear to speak out will only end when football – and wider society’s – institutions reorder their priorities. In women’s football, where there is a perennial battle for funding and against sexism, the challenge is particularly difficult, Pennant suggests. “You’re fighting on so many fronts. [But] I’m fighting on three fronts and the white woman next to me in my community isn’t. They’re not fighting racism to the same extent because it doesn’t affect them.”

“Ultimately, treat everyone the same. Ask people the same questions. Ask everyone about race, not just the black players. It’s always ‘this racist thing happened, what do you think about racism’. Why not ask a white person what they think about this?”

As Jordan Jarrett-Bryan put it on The Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast in June, if we are going to make comparisons between the UK and the US, racism in this country is in some ways far more insidious because it is dishonest and covert, subtly ingrained in everyday behaviours. If America’s racism is Jim Crow and Confederate flags, Britain’s is a polite smile and the eyes of a security guard following you down the aisle.


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“I just don’t want people to be hypocrites,” Pennant says. “If you’re not into this, fine. But be up front that this is a space that isn’t for me. Football can be so exclusive, so the idea with SEASON was always to give an alternative space that is as inclusive as possible.

“The goal always is for everyone to feel they have a place in football culture and that they can enjoy football in a more positive way by telling stories, by inspiring people, by empowering women. Nothing we do is ‘oh we must do this to tick a box’. It’s because we feel it’s valuable and meaningful to do it.”

You can find out more about SEASON and explore the magazine’s work here.