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Britain's Gay Footballers


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#1 Devon Malcolm

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 08:29 PM

There are currently around 5,000 professional footballers in Britain, but none are openly gay. Amal Fashanu, niece of Justin Fashanu, asks why no gay player has followed in her uncle's boots in nearly 25 years.

My late uncle, Justin Fashanu remains the only professional footballer in Britain ever to come out publicly as gay.

Justin broke into football as a teenage prodigy at Norwich. In 1980 he won the BBC's goal of the season award for an incredible strike against Liverpool. I still feel a surge of family pride every time I watch it.

It's the casual celebration which always gets me. That was Justin. Effortlessly talented, effortlessly stylish, if a touch cocky.

But what I learned about Justin is that, sadly, "that goal" marked the high point of his career.

He was catapulted to fame, when Nottingham Forest paid a million pound-transfer fee to Norwich. But it was largely downhill from there.

Forest's manager, the famous Brian Clough - or in my family the infamous - took a disliking to Justin.

In his autobiography, Clough recounts the confrontation he had with Justin over rumours about frequenting gay clubs in Nottingham:

"'Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?' I asked him. 'A baker's, I suppose.' 'Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?' 'A butcher's.' 'So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs' club?'"

Those were the typical attitudes Justin faced in his profession, and very little had changed by the time he took the momentous decision to come out publicly a decade later in 1990.

These prejudices he had to endure saddened, rather than shocked, me. But what I did find surprising was the slow pace of change within football since my uncle's courageous step into the limelight.

I learned Justin was no angel, but he genuinely believed he was setting an example to other players facing discrimination. Sadly, it's an example no other gay player has felt able to follow in nearly 25 years.

Why? Several reasons, I discovered. Matt Lucas, comedian, avid Arsenal supporter and one of Britain's best known gay football fans, shocked me with his description of the homophobia still prevalent on the terraces.

But I learned it's not simply a case of the terraces frightening a gay player from coming forward. Max Clifford, the celebrity PR guru, pinpointed the role of agents and their perception that an openly gay player would be a weak commodity in the transfer market.

"If by their star coming out, it's going to affect their earnings, then they won't want them to do it," says Clifford.

Clifford also told me he had been approached by gay and bisexual Premiership players, terrified that their sexuality would come out and petrified that this would mean the end of their careers.

Joey Barton, Queen's Park Rangers outspoken captain, feels close to the issue as his father's youngest brother initially hid his homosexuality. Barton highlighted "archaic figures" in management positions as an obstacle to gay players.

Former basketball star turned gay rights campaigner John Amaechi went even further.

"Football is clearly not that comfortable with women in board rooms. They're clearly not that comfortable with black people in management positions. And so, when it comes to gay people, that just blows their mind," said Amaechi.

But there were some definite chinks of light. I encountered determined campaigners for change, like the Gay Football Supporters' Network, which has been trying to fight homophobia in the game for many years.

Other organisations, like Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card and the Professional Footballers' Association, have also added homophobia to their anti-discrimination agenda in recent times.

The Football Association, the game's main governing body and so often the target for criticism over its shortcomings and failings, are about to launch a four-year plan aimed at encouraging more gay players to participate at grassroots level.

Barton was adamant that within the next 10 years there will be an openly gay footballer in the professional game.

However, I was left with the overwhelming feeling that progress has moved at a snail's pace since Justin's era. As someone from a different generation, who works in fashion with gay colleagues on a regular basis, I found this particularly hard to comprehend.

As well as being a great eye opener here, my research allowed me to close a very difficult chapter in my family life, which has always bothered me. By the time Justin came out publicly, his relationship with my dad, John Fashanu had broken down.

My dad was upset that Justin had not at least consulted him before taking this step. When Justin later took his own life in 1998, following unfounded allegations of sexual assault in the US, it was shattering for my dad and family.

I think as a 10-year-old my family, rightly, tried to protect me. But I was deeply upset by watching a documentary about Justin's life made shortly after he killed himself and discovering how my dad reacted in the media to Justin coming out.

He said his brother would have to "suffer the consequences" and that he "wouldn't like to play or even get changed in the vicinity of him". I also heard for the first time the message that Justin left in which he said he felt abandoned and alone.

Reliving that terrible time just made me wish I had been old enough back then to be there for Justin. I'm not saying I could have changed everything but I think he only needed that one family member or someone close to help. He shouldn't have ever felt alone and I think that's what most distressed me.

I spoke to my dad about his reaction at the time and asked him whether he would now have changed any of his actions.

"I'm not homophobic and I never had been, but at the time I was certainly cross with my brother," said my dad.

"I sleep at night wondering all the time, could I have done more and I keep coming up with the answer, yes I could have done more. Does that console me? No. We've cried for nearly two decades for Justin, it's enough."

I think I've come to realise myself that maybe Justin wasn't the perfect person that I had painted when I was 10 years old, and maybe he did do some things that upset our family. But having said that I still don't excuse my dad for disowning his brother publicly.

My uncle's death and this family episode were tragic. But this should never disguise that Justin was proud to be who he was and proud to have been a pioneer.


http://www.bbc.co.uk...gazine-16722196

Ideally, I'd have liked to have seen a documentary, or series, that covered homosexuality in sports overall because I think it would be interested to draw comparisons with other sports if the progress towards more players coming out as openly gay is different, and why other sports may or may not be lagging behind.

But this is a subject that I know a lot of people mull over on a regular basis, as do I. My hope was after Gareth Thomas, the rugby union player, and Steven Davies, the England cricketer, came out that there may be a lot more people willing to do so over here soon after. Hasn't really happened, unfortunately.

Does anyone see the situation improving any time soon or can we expect to see the same dearth of openly gay athletes and sportsmen and women for quite some time yet?

#2 IANdrewDiceClay

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 08:33 PM

Can you imagine the uproar from fans if a player came out, though? Racism matters little to opposition fans, so I can only imagine the vile abuse directed at a gay footballer. The poor bloke who comes out would be buried by the opposition supporters. Football fans are just cunts in general, and the media and pundits and the people in it are just as bad. The whole Suarez/Terry thing has show the game up for what it still is. No amount of wristbands, campaigns and billboards are cleaning this game up in a hurry. Racism and sexism are defended by some spanners in the game, I can only imagine what the Alan Greens and Neil Warnocks would say about a gay player.

Edited by The_BarbarIAN, 28 January 2012 - 08:38 PM.

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#3 ColinBollocks

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 08:36 PM

In other sports, certainly, not football though. Some of the archaic reactions by some folk in the game to the whole racism thing, makes me think that homophobia is still rife in the game. Plus, you have to deal with the idiots in the stands and the OTT media reaction you'd get from the likes of The Sun and the Daily Mail. It really isn't worth the hassle. Edit: Aye, what Ian said, basically.

Edited by Blackson Jackson, 28 January 2012 - 08:37 PM.

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#4 The King Of Swing

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 08:38 PM

Can you imagine the uproar from fans if a player came out, though? Racism matters little to opposition fans, so I can only imagine the vile abuse directed at a gay footballer. The poor bloke who comes out would be buried by the opposition supporters. Football fans are just cunts in general, and the media and pundits and the people in it are just as bad. The whole Suarez/Terry thing has show the game up for what it still is. No amount of wristbands, campaigns and billboards are cleaning this game up in a hurry.

Racims and sexism are defended by some spanners in the game, I can only imagine what the Alan Greens and Neil Warnocks would say about a gay player.


This post perfectly sums the "beautiful game" up for me and I'll be suprised to see anything change in my lifetime let alone ten years time.

Edited by The King Of Swing, 28 January 2012 - 08:39 PM.

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#5 Pier Six Brawler

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 08:42 PM

I think the youth setup in football would put off a lot of gay people. I don't think it's that homophobic as such, it's just that it's taken as a given that you're heterosexual. I don't think a player that came out would face THAT much abuse from the fans. Not in this country anyway.
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#6 FUM

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 08:50 PM

I think the youth setup in football would put off a lot of gay people. I don't think it's that homophobic as such, it's just that it's taken as a given that you're heterosexual.

I don't think a player that came out would face THAT much abuse from the fans. Not in this country anyway.


You're kidding yourself on here. Their would be umpteen chants, and some of the players own fans would probably turn on him as well. Football fans are bastards, regardless what country they're from.

Opposition players wouldn't be slow in taunting them either.

Edited by FUM, 28 January 2012 - 08:50 PM.

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#7 ColinBollocks

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 08:50 PM

I think the youth setup in football would put off a lot of gay people. I don't think it's that homophobic as such, it's just that it's taken as a given that you're heterosexual.

I don't think a player that came out would face THAT much abuse from the fans. Not in this country anyway.

Even if you exclude the verbal abuse (and Ian is spot on with saying "football fans are cunts in general"), they'd still have to deal with the excessive media attention they'd get day and night and the fact they'll forever be known as a gay footballer before any ability or honours.

As I said, it isn't worth the hassle.

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#8 Devon Malcolm

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 08:53 PM

I don't think a player that came out would face THAT much abuse from the fans. Not in this country anyway.


Unfortunately, I think that's a bit naive. I don't think you would hear outright chants from large sections of support but considering some of the crap endured by Graeme Le Saux, who isn't even gay anyway, I think you would hear a lot of abuse.

But it's a recurring theme in football. There is a large core of fans who, when faced with progress or something new, react negatively. It happened with black footballers, it happened with female officials - and it will happen if a player comes out as gay or bisexual.

#9 Richie Freebird

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 09:01 PM

What needs to happen is for someone like Lionel Messi to come out as gay. No one can deny the talents of a player like Messi, and the fact that everyone already appreciates the unequalled level of his game would kind of force the respect to remain regardless. I think if a player of Messiís stature announced himself as a gay, the doors would become more open for players of all ages and abilities to be open and free with their sexuality. We just need a big name standard bearer to get the ball rolling.

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#10 Mr. Seven

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 09:03 PM

Got a bad write-up on F365: http://www.football3...otballers-On-TV

#11 PowerButchi

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 09:08 PM

Any basketball fans able to inform us on the reaction to John Amaechi when he came out?

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#12 WU LYF 4 LYF

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 09:12 PM

I think the problem is that if a player comes out they are defined for the rest of their career by it. Look at Gareth Thomas, he's now universally known as the rugby player who is openly gay, rather than simply a rugby player. Maybe it'll take a few players coming out to change that fact, but if I was a gay footballer I wouldn't want to come out because of, a. the abuse b. the awkwardness he'd receive from fellow professionals and even the manager c. the fact that in every subsequent interview all he'd be asked by journalists would be in regard to his sexuality Not worth the hassle.
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#13 FUM

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 09:23 PM

What needs to happen is for someone like Lionel Messi to come out as gay. No one can deny the talents of a player like Messi, and the fact that everyone already appreciates the unequalled level of his game would kind of force the respect to remain regardless. I think if a player of Messiís stature announced himself as a gay, the doors would become more open for players of all ages and abilities to be open and free with their sexuality. We just need a big name standard bearer to get the ball rolling.


He would have to be gay first though. :D
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#14 IANdrewDiceClay

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 09:25 PM

If Messi was gay, I'm sure we'd all want to fuck him up the arse. I know I would. He's a man of the Lord, though. I'm sure he wants them all to die an aids related death.

Edited by The_BarbarIAN, 28 January 2012 - 09:27 PM.

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#15 PowerButchi

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Posted 28 January 2012 - 09:27 PM

Look at Gareth Thomas, he's now universally known as the rugby player who is openly gay, rather than simply a rugby player.


Is he? Most people I know are more concerned with the fact he's former Wales Captain, capped 100 times and had a stroke on Scrum V. Alfie's got a talismanic quality.

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