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.




  1. It is interesting that three top German players - Philipp Lahm (captain of the national team, for that matter), Mario Gomez and Manuel Neuer - have spoken publicly in avour of gay football players.

  2. Well there is no point in not being in favour, as I'm pretty sure there are active gay players in all leagues. They may even be open to other players but not ot the general public.