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Football's last taboo

TRAILBLAZER: Justin Fashanu was the first (and only) openly gay footballer

HOMOSEXUALITY IN football, often considered a taboo subject due to the absence of openly gay players in Britain, is back on the agenda because of Daily Mail football writer Martin Samuel. Writing on the topic in his sports column, Samuel irreverently asks why does Joey Barton “not come out as gay?” – comment Gay Football Supporters’ Network (GFSN) has deemed “unhelpful”.

GFSN, originally established in 1989 as an organisation to help LGB&T football fans but now tackles homophobia in the game, has criticised the tone of Samuel’s piece which suggests football requires a “watershed moment” where one player should “come out and be gay, so everybody can be really cool about it and the sport can get on with its life.

“Football is beginning to sound a little desperate with its pleading”, Samuel adds. “Rugby, cricket, they’ve all had their gay watershed moment.”

Responding to the column, which ends by lampooning Barton’s recent press conference in France where he speaks English without his usual Liverpudlian accent as “probably halfway there [to being gay]”, GFSN’s chair Chris Basiurski said he is striving for a more inclusive, welcoming environment for LGB&T people in the sport.

“GFSN is working to create an atmosphere in football that would allow a footballer to come out if they wanted to, free from any form of discrimination or abuse”, said Basiurski.

“We would never presume to ask someone to come out, that is a personal decision for each LGB&T individual to take. We also do not assume that any player who did come out would become an automatic hero or role model. Any player would be under enormous pressure.

“In particular we find Martin Samuel’s comments in the Daily Mail regarding Joey Barton unhelpful as they distract from the more important message of trying to create a positive atmosphere in football for LGB&T people.

“It does nothing to address the very real experiences of homophobia we see in football on a regular basis”, added the GFSN chair.


DIRECTING: Fashanu in action in 1993 for Heart Of Midlothian

However, there was no mention from either side of the first footballer to openly reveal his homosexuality – Justin Fashanu, a tragic figure in footballing history who took his own life in 1998, aged 37.

Fashanu, the first black footballer to be sold for a £1m transfer fee when he moved from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981, showed up the homophobic state and intolerance of football during his playing career. The Hackney-born player’s time at Forest was marked by a deteriorating relationship with manager Nigel Clough, who began treating the player differently once he heard rumours about Fashanu’s sexuality.

“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,” writes equality campaigner Peter Tatchell on his website.

“Homophobia was not his only problem. Like many black footballers in those days, Justin suffered racism too.

“He was subjected to frequent racist taunts by fans from rival teams. They would make monkey noises and gestures, and throw bananas onto the pitch.

“But it was anti-gay prejudice that ultimately dragged him down”, he adds.

Moreover, once Fashanu publically came out in 1990, his younger brother John, a Wimbledon FC striker at the time, condemned him in The Voice, the headline being, ‘John Fashanu: My Gay Brother is an outcast.’

The sad story of Fashanu, who wrote in his suicide note, “I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family”, may illuminate as to why there has not been a second openly gay footballer in this country.

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