Monday, February 28, 2011

The Slient Ones: Homosexuality in Modern Football

Justin Fashanu in his England Kit.

The topic of gay footballers in the modern game is a touchy subject, so touchy that last year when I tried to broach the subject with some football fans in Barcelona I was promptly told "There are no gays in world football". In that weird moment of awkwardness all I could think about was Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's speech at Columbia University in which he stated "There are no gays in Iran".

Obviously the context of the situations are very different, but the my reaction in my mind was almost identical. "You have to be kidding yourself, of course there are homosexuals in Iran/Football. However I then quickly realized that I would have an easier time finding a gay Iranian than a gay professional footballer. The fact of the matter is currently homosexuality in the game is not accepted at its highest levels.

You can quickly see that there is an old boys mentality that still runs the up to the top of the modern game. It got me wondering how many gay footballers are playing behind the closet? To this date I only know of one footballer that has played the game open, his name was Justin Fashanu.

Fashanu had many obstacles to overcome aside from being gay, he was Black in the late 70's and early 80's of English football. For those who have only studied English football in the Premier League era, you may think Black players have been widely accepted for generations, however this was not the case. It was only in 1977 when Laurie Cunningham became the first Black England international at any level and even then he was not universally loved by England supporters. So imagine Fashanu in 1980, only 19 and the first Black 1 million pound player joining the reigning European champions Nottingham Forest. Now add the fact he was in the closet (He didn't come out until 1990) and you have what its like to be a gay trailblazer in world football.

During that decade of closeted double-life, he found it immensely difficult to cope with the strain of hiding his gayness in the macho world of football - not to mention the stress of living a secret gay life while constantly in the media spotlight. It also didn't help that his manager the legendary Brian Clough called his 1 million pound signing "A bloody poof!".

During his time at Forest his career went into a tailspin as he battled with the feelings of who he was. When he finally came out in 1990 his career was all but over. However he thought that coming out would help other footballers (especially Black) footballers come out as well.

To this day Fashanu is the only footballer in England to have ever come out publicly about his homosexuality. In fact he is in reality one of about 4 ex players who have ever come out, and they did so after retiring. Many of those players cited the homophobic nature of the game as the major reason for retiring including Fashanu.

In 1998 Justin took his own life in London.

The thing I always wonder when reading about Justin Fashanu's story is, why has no one followed him though the door? Some answers lie in the stands, with us as supporters. When our chants are laced with homophobia, when we call opposing and sometime our own player "fags", when we openly speculate about players sexual tendencies like Newcastle United's Xisco, we allow that door to stay closed. It also doesn't help when their fellow colleagues  make comments like....

"A bunch of faggots is what you have in French football. There are so many homosexual players there, they always provoke you, they touch your thighs, your bum, to see if you will give some kind of signal. I feel disgusted when a homosexual shares the same shower and stares at one's bum with desire, and even gets emotional when you are naked."

~ Eduardo Berizzo former Argentine International while player for Olympique Marseille

When asked if there were homosexuals playing in Germany's top division  current U.S international Jermaine Jones simply responded "I hope not".

And finally former Schalke manager and executive Rudi Assauer said  "If a player came to me and said he was gay I would say to him: 'You have shown courage'. But then I would tell him to find something else to do. That's because those who out themselves always end up busted by it, ridiculed by their fellow players and by people in the stands. We should spare them these witch hunts."

Sadly Assauer's assessment of the current state of football in regards to homosexuality is all too accurate. Many in the LGTB community believe that against all odds Euro 2012 could help to bring the issue of homosexuality into the forefront. Two weeks ago a group of gay Polish fans petitioned to UEFA to have a section for gay supporters. There is debate for both sides of the issue, but for the first time in a long time this issue is truly being discussed at a high level. Only time will tell is this will lead to longer lasting change, but this could be the step in the right direction....Provided the hierarchy listen.



Monday, February 21, 2011

The Banana syndrome: Football and Racsim

I love the game of football, and all of the wonderful things that the game can stand for when treated with the utmost respect it deserves. However there is one aspect of the game that still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth and it has little to do with on pitch performance. In the 21st century it still at times baffles the mind that archaic ways of thinking could still penetrate the minds of a mass crowd, but yet it is proven week in and week out on football pitches all over the world. Of course I'm speaking about racists chants that could be heard every weekend in some of the top leagues in the world.

 This is not the first time I've blogged on the issue, back when current Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli was still at Inter Milan he was the target of his own fans. The taunts came in many forms, from a small section of fans making "Ape noises" to chants of "Go home" (funny as Balotelli is an Italian citizen and plays for the Italian national squad) to having banana's tossed at while taking a corner kick. At one point it was decided that the taunts were getting so out of hand we was benched when playing Jueventus in Turin simply to spare him, and the league further embarrassment.

 Balotelli's case is unfortunately one in a long line of incidents which have plagued players of visible minority for decades now. While the world seems to be moving towards social inclusion of all races, religions and creeds it seems the "world's game" is stuck in a perpetual state of Jim Crow attitudes.

 FIFA have in its own way has tried to address the problem with its say no to racism program, however plenty more meeds to be done it order to really tackle this issue. For example there has been calls for clubs or national FA's to have income producing home matches stripped or have those home matches played behind closed doors. The idea is that if you hit the club or FA in the pocket book it would force those organizations to work on cleaning up the behaviour of its supporters. The idea stems from the 5 year European competition ban for English clubs in the aftermath of the 1985 Heysel disaster during the height of hooliganism that plagued the game for 10 year previous. The punishment which was supported by then PM Margaret Thatcher was thought as part of the catalyst for change of how supporters approached football, and how administrators handled supporters.

 Could a similar type of ban work for FA's in the case of racism? The signs point ot yes, however there of course social factors in countries that football simply can't fix on it own. To this day I know of no FA that has banned home supporters due to racism in the stands, fines? Yes, light slaps on the wrist? Yes but no overarching strategy to combat the disease. England and Germany make have the most forward looking programmes, but they still fall short of concrete measures for punishment.

 Star Inter Milan striker Samuel E'to has been on the end of abuse or years now both in Italy and his spell in Spain with Barcelona. He stated in an interview with CNN that that racism is so widespread in Spain that he no longer dares take his family to matches.

 "Racism can happen anywhere and I don't want them to see it," "It's a sad situation in football. In my opinion the problem is getting bigger and the people that should come up with a solution are not doing it. So to protect my family, I don't take them to the game."

 E'to when on to say, "We can't wait until some crazy fan jumps from his seat and kills a black player before measures are taken. The players are revolted by it and we try to help each other. But the authorities must find a way to set an example."

 So the question becomes, when do the football authorities start to take this issue as seriously as say video replay or diving? I do not say this in jest because both of the aforementioned issues have received more attention in the past 12 months than racism in the game. These words are coming of arguably the best striker on the planet, yet no action is taken. Today another player stepped forward to claimed racial abuse. French international striker Djibril Cisse had been targeted in Greece with inflatable bananas and more ape noises. We'll wait to see what either FIFA, UEFA or the Greek league do about this. However history indicates not much.

 Football needs a shake up in regards to this, I don't know if it has to be a massive racial incident at something like the World Cup or Euro final, or god forbid someone dying over it at a pitch, but something has to give. The game has to destroy this as aggressively as it did hooliganism in the 80 and early 90's. Or face losing the fans that truly made football a global game.

If you want to read more Click here for Samuel E'to's interview from 2008.
Also there is a great article form 2006 called the "Ugly Game" I suggest a read.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Moments like these are why I watch!

I haven't posted in a while, but I had to take a moment a provide another reason as to why I love this game. Forget the fact that this moment was provided by my favorite club or that the goal was against a bitter rival. Even remove the fact that I had to work that Saturday and posted an illegal Internet feed of the game on my work T.V's.

Just remember that Wayne Rooney's over head bicycle kick goal to win the Manchester derby was a true moment of sheer class! Let`s face it, United didn`t look as if they were going to take all 3 points. City had gotten a fortuitous equalizer in the 65th minute and were in the ascendancy up until that bit of magic.

Rooney has not played well this season, no one quite knows why other than Rooney, and maybe his Mrs depending on who you believe. Whatever the case maybe he has failed to be as effective as he had been last season. So when he pulled off that audacious goal one had to be quite shocked, but when the wow factor wears off your realize how special he is and remember that he has the gift to pull it off.

These kind of goals and moments in a game make football such a great game. The fact that a game can be completely boring or slow, lacking pace or energy and then....sheer magic! This is why I watch...this is why I get up at ungodly hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings to watch games.