His character Matty Barton may have once scored a goal on TV, but it’s not always been an easy route in football for actor Ash Palmisciano; as he prepares to play in Europe’s first team of all trans men on Transgender Day of Visibility, he joins FvT campaign lead Natalie Washington – captain of TRUK United Women – for a chat about his love of the game…
When Ash Palmisciano strides out to play in a very special football match at Dulwich Hamlet on Friday night, he’ll be thinking of his 10-year-old self.
The Emmerdale actor will be part of a team that will make history when they kick off at Champion Hill, in another milestone moment for TRUK United FC.
In 2022, the club fielded the UK’s first 11-a-side team consisting solely of trans women for a friendly against the hosts. This year, following a replay of that women’s fixture, it will be the first outing for the TRUK United Men’s team.
It’s believed that there has never been an XI of only trans men taking to a pitch in Europe before, and Ash – who plays the role of Matty Barton in the ITV soap – is excited for the event.
He’s the guest on the latest episode of the Football v Homophobia podcast, which is marking the annual Week of Action of the Football v Transphobia campaign.
The Week is building up to the big match night in south London on March 31 (gates open 6pm – the two matches kick off at 7.15pm and 8.30pm), for which Ash will be travelling down from Yorkshire.
Chatting on the podcast to host Jon Holmes and FvT campaign lead Natalie Washington, the 33-year-old talks about his love of football growing up and explains how his involvement with TRUK United FC came about.
“It’s a weird twist of fate really,” he says, “because I’d been wanting to get back into football for a while and I’d said to a friend that I wished I could play with people similar to myself.
“Sometimes I’ve played in environments that haven’t been very open to me and that’s knocked my confidence a little bit because I really enjoy playing.
“I started doing a bit of 5-a-side again and was thinking about finding a team or group I could play with that would be super accepting and perhaps had similar beliefs to myself, just to leave the toxic stuff away.
“We went down to Trans Pride Brighton for the weekend, and I stumbled across the TRUK United stall and met Lucy Clark who was representing the team and the radio station they run as well.
“I saw the shirt and said ‘wow, I really want one’ – and they asked if I play. They mentioned they were doing this massive charity match and I said I’d love to come down and have a kick around.
“I also said that I happen to play a trans guy on TV but that I don’t really know many other trans guys and would love to connect with some.
“Later, Lucy pulled out the bag that they were going to be doing an all-male trans side and I couldn’t believe it. What a part of history – it’d be silly for me not to be in on it.
“Little me would have loved this game, at 10 years old – to be on an equal level and feel really well accepted into the team. That would have been life-changing, in a sense of confidence building.
“So for me, it’s a bit of a dream come true to just have this opportunity to play with a great group of people.”
For Natalie, hearing Ash describe how much the occasion means to him is an encouraging endorsement of the wider message of Football v Transphobia, which is now in its fifth year.
Natalie also captains the TRUK United Women’s team and has worked tirelessly alongside other trans and non-binary people who love football to showcase the impact of inclusion.
“It’s always been about those human stories, getting people back into football, and getting people into football for the first time,” she tells the podcast.
“I think back to last year, and the first transfeminine team that we had. People had the same sorts of emotions as Ash – a lot of them hadn’t played for a while or hadn’t felt able to get involved.
“This was their pathway back in and now they’re playing much more regularly.
“I don’t know what will happen on Friday but I think the experience will be the important thing for people, taking that first step, and people will play more often and we’ll build the quality up over a period of time.”
Ash hasn’t laced up his boots for a full game for a while – but he was able to celebrate scoring a goal in an episode of Emmerdale that aired a few years back.
He describes filming that village match as a full-circle moment, having often experienced feelings of isolation as a kid around football.
“That kind of played into why I gave it up. I pursued other things like acting, I became myself, and felt more confident – and then they decided to write about a football match, and the reason was that they wanted to show Matty – who just happens to be a trans guy – doing something like any other guy would do.
“It was an incredible episode because we had Chris Kamara come and do a cameo on it so that was quite surreal! It turned into one of the best days I’ve ever had at work.
“They actually asked me if I wanted a stunt double for a tackle which was unbelievable!
“We just played football all day and it was great – and it was fantastic scoring a goal.
“I remember getting on the Tube a few months after filming it. There are Emmerdale watchers in London definitely although I don’t usually meet them, but this guy came up to me and said ‘good goal mate!’ and I was like ‘oh, thanks!’ – which was really funny.
“The affirmation I wanted when I was younger through playing football I sort of got through the show!”
He concedes that these days he’s much more of a fan than an actual footballer, and on the podcast, he also discusses where his allegiances lie as a supporter, picking out some favourite players for club and country and memories of watching games.
He’s also very proud to support Football v Transphobia and has a shirt from the campaign which he has shown off on Instagram.
If the campaign had been around when he was growing up, he says it would have been incredibly uplifting.
“As a kid, I was trying to figure out who I was – it’s very complex and confusing when you’re eight years old.
“I remember just loving football and wanting to play with the guys but feeling like I didn’t quite fit in that space but certainly didn’t fit in the other space.
“When I saw this campaign, it was a moment to think that there are other people in the world just like you. It validates you.
“All those feelings of being isolated when you were younger and thinking it was unfair that you can’t have the easy part into playing a football match… it’s just really affirming and I feel a lot of strength from it.
“Maybe if I’d seen a trans guy playing football, it would’ve made me think life’s going to be alright, that I can do all the things I love and still be authentic.
“As trans people, we have to sadly sometimes give things up in order to remain safe or go a little hidden at times so this is exactly what we need to be doing – coming together and helping each other.”
Also on the podcast episode, Ash and Natalie talk about their respective relationships with social media; the recent report by the charity Mermaids into young trans and non-binary people and sport; and their football wishes for Friday, and beyond… give it a listen!
All-trans football team set to make history on the pitch: ‘You can create your own spaces’ (Maggie Baska, PinkNews)
‘Without football, I wouldn’t be here today’: Meet Lucy Clark, the world’s first transgender referee (Sam Cunningham, the i paper)
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