The Gay Footballer Dream

You might have heard about the twitter account which was set up by a footballer to pave the way for a breakthrough in English football that would likely give hope and encouragement to so many. When the account @Footballer Gay was set up, the individual behind it said they were a professional footballer playing in the English Football Championship. They were set in motion the process of publicly coming out, liaising with the manager and owner, to be the first professional player in the UK to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990. The date of the announcement had even been set – 24 July 2019.

As a gay man who loves football, the prospect of having an openly gay man playing in the English league filled me with hope and encouragement that things maybe, at last, changing in football, and what seems to be the last stronghold where homosexuality is not welcome might finally be breaking.

However, on the eve of the announcement, a post was put up saying “I thought I was stronger. I was wrong.” A more detailed tweet followed shortly after. The account was later closed.

Because of the sense of optimism, I had, I was following the account and check back for updates from the time I first discovered the account until its deletion. There were many who were supportive of this individual, some who thought it a hoax because of the way the announcement was being dragged out, and some were outright vile. There are also some details around saying that death threats had been made towards this individual.

During the time @FootballerGay was posting, another account claiming to be a Premier League footballer at Norwich City appeared, and was later confirmed a hoax, and since the closure of @FootballerGay’s account, several other accounts have appeared, one even naming a player.

Whether or not the original account was a hoax, and I for one am not making the judgement, it showed that there is still a homophobic element within both the fans and the country. It also confirms that social media has a dark underbelly. The faceless interaction where you can say something with the protection of relative anonymity and not have to be witness to the impact of your comments.

The question also needs to be looked at to see if football is ready for an openly gay or bi man to come out. With football being a worldwide sport, larger clubs might be keeping one eye on the commercial aspect and how it could impact on the club’s fortunes aboard. On the flip side, there could be a commercial gain to have an openly gay or bi man at the club that creates additional revenue streams. The worldwide aspect in larger clubs might also come into play with the broad range of nationalities that are in the dressing rooms, and how tensions may arise from cultural or religious beliefs between teammates on the issue of a gay player.

However, the biggest concern is still a small minority of fans. With there still a deep-rooted issue with racism, highlighted by the testimonies of players such as Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling, as well as being witnessed by TV cameras at away international matches, what sort of reaction would a gay or bi player get? Despite campaigns such as the Rainbow Laces campaign, homophobia is still present on the terraces, directed at players and fans.

The men’s game is in sharp contrast to the women’s game. At the recent 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, there were 41 out LGBT competitors, 5 of whom played for England.

The Anfield Kop lit up for Pride (photo from Pride in Liverpool Facebook)

However, I don’t want to be too negative as there are green shoots. As a Liverpool fan, I am incredibly proud that Liverpool FC was the first Premier League team to take part in a Pride march back in 2012. This weekend sees LFC’s CEO, club staff and families join Kop Outs, the LFC LGBT+ fan group, on the march. Anfield’s famous Kop is also being bathed in rainbow colours each night this week in the lead up to Pride. Clubs are engaging more with their LGBT+ fans, with Kop Outs being just one example of LGBT+ supporter groups through the English League.

My hope is that lessons are learnt from this, from clubs, teammates, managers, clubs and most important gay and bi players. I really hope that what has happened will help the process to give young lads who are growing up questioning who they are another role model to look up to. As a football fan, I would love to see an openly gay or bi man play for either of my teams or even against them – and I would still be cheering if they score! If this episode has delayed that for any reason, then the quest goes on for the Gay Footballer dream.

Trying to look on the bright side of life

Today must be one of the darkest days I have personally felt in my political career. Only the morning after the 2016 referendum result and the day following the 2015 General Election have left me feeling much lower. However, there may be a glint of something on the horizon that is driving me forward despite this fear.

The prospect of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (to give him his full name) becoming the 77th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom tomorrow fills me with complete dread. My biggest concern is his main ‘do or die’ policy on leaving the EU on October 31st come what may. Anyone prepared to play fast and loose with the economy, and in turn, people’s livelihoods, has no business entering Number 10.

Now people may say that I am a doom-mongering for believing that the economy will crash if we leave the EU with or without a deal. I do tend to prefer listening to the experts who have a far great grasp on economics than I do, and with the majority predicting such an event, then I will continue to say that staying in the EU is best for the economy.

As a Liberal Democrat, I have always believed in international co-operation, and that is why I am proud that my party took on the mantle to be the voice to Remain. The day after the vote in 2016, the speech by the then leader of the Lib Dems, Tim Farron, called on the party to become the beacon of remain. This speech made me realise the fight was not over:

“Young people voted to remain by a considerable margin but were outvoted. They were voting for their future, yet it has been taken from them.

Even though the result was close, there is no doubt that the majority of British people want us to leave.

Our fight for an open, optimistic, hopeful, diverse and tolerant Britain is needed now more than ever.

Together we can still make the case for Britain’s future with Europe, as millions of people voted for it. Together we cannot afford to let that vision to die.”

(extract from Tim Farron’s speech on 24th June 2016)

Similarly in back in 2015, following the night when I was at my first count as a Parliamentary candidate in Lincoln and saw many of the inspirational colleagues that I looked up to losing their seats as MPs, through the darkness of the events unravelling there were chinks of light. The first was the fantastic team I had around me at the count. Most were in their first General Election, and they were young and committed liberals who were ready to begin the fightback. The energy they had to right the wrong of the night got me through.

The next part of the 2015 story happened up and down the country. The resignation speech of Nick Clegg began the tidal wave of new members. This influx, combined with the strength of the team from election night felt like I was plugged back in the mains electric supply.

The new Lib Dem leader, Jo Swinson, with former leader, Sir Vince Cable

As for what is the glint keeping me from complete and utter despair, that is Jo Swinson. I have long admired Jo as a politician and her commitment to fighting injustice. Her speech that she gave on becoming leader gave me the drive I need to help her and the party I love to succeed. You can read or listen to Jo’s speech in full at Lib Dem Voice here. (For those of you who are looking to listen/watch it move the video to 28 minutes in for the start of the coverage of the results or 34 minutes in for the start of the speech itself)

So yes, I may be glum and annoyed at the self-obsessed, blithering fool that is Boris is now hours away from becoming Prime Minister, but there is a leader who has my full support to ensure that Britain has a true alternative to the self-righteous and nationalist approach of Johnson and Farage, and the party that is led by man is so ineffective he cannot decide what his view is on the most important issue of the day. Thank you, Jo, for being a beacon of hope, decency and inspiration in this darkening world and I am on this fight with you for a better Britain and to stop Brexit!