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.
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.