This is a topic that has received a reasonable amount of attention, particularly because of a documentary aired on BBC 3 on the 31st January. Britain’s Gay Footballers was presented by a young lady called Amal Fashanu, who has clearly demonstrated herself as having great social conscience in examining the current culture of the game under a critical lens.
Fashanu’s passion is not without precedent – she is the niece of the ONLY player to come out as gay in the history of professional football in the UK.
Oh wait. Not quite true. Quite amazingly, Lily Parr was openly lesbian during her football career that spanned 1919-1951. She was also reportedly uncommonly strong and certainly a match for male contemporaries of her day. Of course the lesbian female professional footballer is never talked about. But before I end up writing a post on that instead…
Justin Fashanu, 1961-1998. He was also the first black footballer to command a transfer fee of £1M.
His name was Justin Fashanu, and he committed suicide in 1998. Shortly before his death he had been accused of sexual assault by a 17 year old in the United States. Circumstances appear to suggest that fear and guilt related to this accusation may have compounded the burden of vicious homophobia borne for years, as highlighted by this excerpt of conversation, taken from the manager Brian Clough’s autobiography:
“Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?”
“Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?”
“So why do you keep going to that bloody poof’s club?”
Says it all really. One can imagine the entirely aggressive tone that exchange must’ve embodied. But yes, the homophobia present in football hasn’t only been seen in the reactions to the only gay player that there has been any chance for discrimination to occur against. As far as I’ve been able to find, there’s only one openly gay player in the world of professional football currently, and they are Anton Hysén, found in the incredibly minor Swedish Fourth Division. Unfortunately he hasn’t made any particular point of coming out in order to act as a role model or provide support. Rather anti-climatically his father simply mentioned it in passing to some journalists. Whilst Hysén doesn’t express much of a problem in the environment he plays in, plenty of straight, high level players have received abuse because of how they’re perceived.
This is Freddie Ljungberg. He was the captain of the Swedish national team. Rumours flew wildly around that he was gay because of the fact that he apparently dressed too well, and also openly ‘admitted’ that he enjoys musical theatre. The fact that one has to experience extensive rumour and gossip simply for not fitting the cookie-cutter ‘lad’s lad’ image in every conceivable way is rather depressing. Good on him for shrugging such questions off as a compliment reflecting the stereotypical fashionable grooming of gay men. Interesting to think how many individuals would react defensively or angrily at such a question.
In 2009, Ian Trow and a 14 year old boy were convicted of shouting homophobic abuse at Sol Campbell, and yet this case was regarded as a legal first, despite piles of evidence of abuse being hurled with depressing frequency. Evidence for this can be found in a report written by the charity Stonewall, titled ‘Leagues Behind – football’s failure to tackle anti-gay abuse’, which can be found here.
Whilst the survey’s usefulness is limited due to being a collection of simple statistics of football fan’s answers to a survey, some of the quotations found in the survey reveal attitudes and behaviour that are really rather shocking.
“If I found out one of my players was gay, I would throw him off the team”
Luiz Felipe Scolari, 2002, manager of Palmeiras, one of the most successful Brazilian football clubs
“The homophobic taunting and bullying left me close to walking away from football. I went through times that were like depression. I did not know where I was going. I would get up in the morning and would not feel good and by the time I got into training I would be so nervous that I felt sick. I dreaded going in. I was like a bullied kid on his way to school to face his tormentors”
Graham Le Saux, retired professional player who experienced homophobic abuse due to how he was perceived
“Sol, Sol, wherever you may be; you’re on the verge of lunacy; we don’t care if you’re hanging from a tree; ‘cos you’re a Judas c*** with HIV”
Chant used against Sol Campbell at the Tottenham Hotspur vs. Portsmouth game on 28th September 2008.
I feel this beautiful Husky sums up my feelings with adequate eloquence.
As far as I see it, the biggest barrier and problem regarding this sort of abuse lies with the supporters. I can’t think of any other sport where thousands of supporters chant ‘banter’ directly at players or teams during play, often with massively abusive overtones. Peddling the excuses of ‘it’s not meant with malice’ or ‘such chanting is part of the tradition and people shouldn’t take it to heart’ are tiresome, and certainly don’t hold any weight with regards to racial slurs any more. yet another quotation that sums this up rather neatly states:
“It’s not about thinking the player actually is gay but about finding something abusive to say that’s still legal. The fact that “gay” is used as an all-purpose epithet by Chris Moyles and the like doesn’t help. Most people have been socialised out of racial comments; many still use “gay”.”
Graham, 62, Charleston Athletic supporter
That’s not to say that attitudes of other players and managers aren’t important. Of course, they’re crucial. Just as the reactions of friends and colleagues are important when any gay person comes out. What is more, they set a huge precedent. Fortunately, official action is being taken in recognition of this as a continuing, real, serious problem. Unfortunately, when comparing this issue to that of endemic racism in the world of football decades ago, someone stepping up to say they condemned racism didn’t and doesn’t result in whispers and accusations that the individual is black.