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.

The Importance of Pride

With Lincoln hosting its Pride festival for the LGBT community this last weekend, it is important to remember why the LGBT community still holds these events, not only up and down the country, but across the world.

Although LGBT rights have come a long way since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 across England and Wales; such as the end of Section 28, Civil Partnership and now Equal Marriage, adoption rights for LGBT couples, being openly gay in the British forces and an the right to legally change your gender; there are still some areas that need to be tackled.

Lincoln Pride flag in 2009
Lincoln Pride in 2009

The LGBT community still faces opposition and discrimination in many forms. It was reported by The Lincolnite last week that many homes within the city received a leaflet through their door condemning homosexuality. This comes after similar events in Leicester and Brighton. I respect people’s right to have an opinion and to express it; however the leaflets residents received pushed the bounds of decency and locals never requested to receive such opinions through their letterboxes. It has caused offence to many members of the community whether they are gay or straight and I am pleased the police are taking this matter seriously.

There are also still large numbers of incidents of members of the LGBT community who are attacked simply for being who they are. In 2011/2012, the UK saw over 4,000 incidents of ‘gay bashing’ with some police forces showing a rise of up to 40%. A survey, published in 2013, showed that a quarter of gay people had been attacked at some point in their lives across the European Union.

Lib Dems marching at Brighton Pride in 2010
LGBT+ Lib Dems at Brighton Pride in 2010

We need to head abroad for the biggest challenges in the fight for LGBT rights. Across the world, 81 countries still have laws that make homosexuality illegal; from Algeria through Egypt and Morocco to Zimbabwe in Africa, Afghanistan and India to Singapore and Yemen in Asia and the Middle East, Barbados to Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean. But 38 of these countries have laws that make homosexuality punishable by death. I find the possibility of someone being punished by death for being gay intolerable.

We have also seen an anti-gay propaganda law in Russia passed by President Putin which has led to a number of attacks and arrests through the country on members of the LGBT community.

London Pride March 2010
London Pride March in 2010

I am pleased to see that that Lincoln Pride is continuing to grow from strength to strength over the last couple of years. The LGBT community is part of a diverse and growing city, and I am happy that so many people supported the event, even though I could not make the event myself. The comments from The Lincolnite‘s coverage of Lincoln Pride also show that many people still do not understand the true meaning of why Pride takes place. More education should take place in our schools as to equality and diversity to help people understand the need for such an event.

We do need to remember that many of the LGBT community across the global are not so lucky. By the LGBT coming together to celebrate, it gives us time to reflect that this country, despite coming a long way since the 1960s, we have a long way to go before true equality here and a duty to help other LGBT communities across the world.

Can ‘Rainbow Laces’ tie up homophobia in football?

Football players up and down the country this last weekend played their part in helping to stamp out homophobia in football, and to some extent, sport in general. Compared to other public domains, sport still has less LGBT representatives than most, and this applies especially to football.

Players from clubs from every division and every part of the country laced up their boots with ‘Rainbow Laces’ to show their support for stopping homophobic attitudes in football. As a gay man and a football fan, I know that homophobia still exists in some forms in football.

Gainsborough Trinty players pictured with rainbow laces on their boots
Gainborough Trinity Footballers showing off their Rainbow Laces prior to kick off. Picture by Libby Smith

After going to watch my hometown team, Lincoln City playing Braintree Town at home, I heard some homophobic comments from the stands, and although it was not directed at an openly gay player and by many is seen as the banter of the terraces, it still is homophobic. Comments such as ‘Stop playing like a pansy’ or ‘You’re not injured! Get up you fairy’ should have no place in any arena of life, not even a football stadium.

Fans and players of Brighton and Hove Albion have also been subjected to homophobic chanting over many years due to Brighton’s connections to the gay community. In the 2012/13 season, Brighton and Hove Albion submitted a study to the FA, the Football League and the Football Supporters Federation showing Brighton fans suffered homophobic abuse from 72% of opponents in that season, in 70% of away games and in 57% of all matches. This included allegations of chanting, gestures by players and threats made to supporters leaving a game. The report, which go into detail and the responses from the opposition clubs involved, states: “Some of the chants are fairly mild (“does your boyfriend know you are here”) and some more unpleasant (“you’re just a town full of faggots”).

They are homophobic whether they are directed at a gay person or a straight person and they do cut to the bone, often worse than any type of physical injury. Whether they are heard by a player or fan who is struggling with their sexuality or if they are out and proud, it still hurts. There is also the matter that if this taunts directed at fans and players were about the colour of their skin, the chants would never be considered acceptable in the game today.

There is a glimmer on the horizon. After a string of personalities from other sports coming out such as diver Tom Daley, former rugby star Gareth Thomas, Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, American Football star Michael Sam or Olympic boxer Nicola Adams; football is finally beginning to catch up.

Recently Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former German international and Aston Villa player, came out after retiring from football in 2013, and Robbie Rogers, US international and former Leeds United player, retired and came out in 2013 but then re-started his career playing for LA Galaxy in the United States. One of the poster boys for gay footballers is Anton Hysén, son of the former Liverpool player Glenn Hysén, who came out in 2011. He is currently playing for Myrtle Beach FC in the USA.

There is also a number of football stars in the women’s game who have publically come out, most recently Casey Stoney, the former England and Lincoln Ladies captain, who is currently expecting twins with her partner Megan Harris, who also played for Lincoln Ladies.

But currently, there is only one openly gay male player in English football. His name is Liam Davis who plays for Gainsborough Trinity and he has been open about his sexuality for five years. Before the Rainbow Laces weekend, BBC Newsbeat interviewed the 23 year-old winger and he said that he wanted the players and clubs to have the Rainbow Laces for a whole season to show true support for stamping out homophobia in football.

Openly gay footballer Liam Davis pictured playing football
Liam Davis (pictured with the ball) playing for Gainborough Trinity. Picture by Libby Smith

With the Rainbow Laces, it is a sign that football is making headway and also that Liverpool FC made history as being the first Premier League club to take part in a gay pride parade at the 2012 Liverpool Pride event shows that clubs are being more inclusive, but I have to agree with Liam Davis and say that the Rainbow Laces campaign should last a whole season.

I am very proud that Liam Davis is playing for a club in my home county of Lincolnshire, but I have to say I hope he is not the last gay footballer to be out and proud in the English leagues.