When Will Football Tackle Homophobia?

Ollie Irish

31st, August 2010


By Alex Netherton

IT’S absurd, but I cannot name a single gay footballer in any division in Britain. Statistically, it’s unlikely that not a single player of thousands is not gay. Realistically though, it can’t surprise us why not a single player has come out. Just imagine the reception they’d get, and consider how much, tacitly at least, it’s us who are to blame.

I went to a thoroughly middle-class school. The majority of the pupils were well-off and white, and I could count about thirty fights in the whole of my time there. I don’t mean thirty fights that I had, I mean thirty fights between the 900 pupils who were there at any one time. In short, it wasn’t exactly Scum. It wasn’t even Grange Hill. A reflection of modern society, I can remember very few cases of racism – in fact, I only vividly remember one case, and I still remember the name of the pupil, because I still consider him vermin.

However, the go-to insults were the usual suspects, ‘gay’, or ‘bent’. This was meant to be a decent school, and we weren’t exactly going through the thesaurus when it came to teasing. Racism was a no-no, homophobia was fair game. Luckily, all the school friends I still know have grown out of lazy prejudice. We’ve all realised that there’s little dignity in homophobia.

Now, in the last twenty years British football deserves credit to the efforts made to combat racism, the Kick It Out campaign especially. Today, there’s a few things to remember about the success of Kick It Out now we’re overdue doing the same for homophobia.

One, you can’t exactly shockingly ‘come out’ as foreign, or as an ethnic minority. Surnames and skin colour pretty much give it away. It can make life so much harder facing this prejudice, but you don’t get the choice of being a closet African, or keeping your Italian tendencies away from the press.

The advantage for the Kick It Out campaign is that bigots in the crowd and the media are confronted with the people that represent their prejudice. The presence of ethnic minorities on the pitch forces to get over it against the backdrop of an improving society. From the 1980s onwards, there were undeniable improvements. In 2010, most people know that racism is A Bad Thing. Racism is overtly legislated against, and political correctness has become the victor in the consensus. Yes, there are still problems. Xenophobia is still present, and so is racism, but consider this: what discrimination persists is opposed so often that even the Conservatives realise that they have to pretend that they’re on our side with this.

In simple terms, if you’re a racist supporting any football team in England, the majority of the crowd are going to be set against you, the stewards are now thankfully likely to remove you, you might even get a criminal record. At the start of the Kick It Out campaign, there was enough positive support. Contrast this with the situation that we’ve got with homophobia and football.

The one footballer in Britain to come out is Justin Fashanu. How was he received by the public? He killed himself, partly due to his treatment by footballers, managers and the crowd. Now, his sexuality wasn’t his only problem, and this was many years ago, but it’s not likely to convince anyone to come out now.

Most of us now have colleagues from most cultures, sexualities and religions. I’ve never seen overt racism, I’ve never seen religious discrimination. However, and it would surprise me if it were not the same for others, I have seen homophobic remarks accepted as part of a jokey atmosphere. This is not the society to help a gay footballer.

Last season, a campaign was launched, starring a viral internet advert against homophobia (see video, below). Like the Kick It Out campaign, it starred all the biggest Premier League stars. No, hang on, I mean I starred none of the biggest Premier League stars. A mixture of commercial pressure, perhaps even prejudice of some footballers asked to take part, and fear of public reaction was blamed. Football, for all the arguments, is stuck in the holding pen.

Also, homophobia isn’t exactly banished from the mainstream press. You’ll not find it in The Guardian or The Independent’s editorial or letter sections, but just ten years ago the Sun posed the question, ‘Are we being run by a gay mafia?’ Jan Moir recently got both cheers and jeers for her tribute to Stephen Gately. Further, celebrities rarely come out voluntarily. They either start their career out, or they’re forced into a friendly confession by the tabloids using the argument, ‘Cooperate and we’ll play nice, don’t and we’ll out you anyway.’

When you see the average editorial policy of a tabloid, or The Mail and The Express can you imagine what they’d do on the backpage? Think of the love and compassion shown to Muslims in the press, consider the chants that Mido – a prize prick, but not exactly a fundamentalist – was subjected to. Coupled with the socially stunted, childish rumours spread about Ashley Cole or James Beattie on internet forums, just imagine the newspaper and terrace reaction if a footballer suddenly told the world he was gay.

More by Alex:

Liverpool Fans Trapped In A Grotesque Web Of Self-Delusion

Cristiano Ronaldo Is Much, Much Better Than You

Posted in Featured, Opinion

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  1. Daisy Raskil says:

    Its about time footballers can come out and be what they want to be. Unfortunatley i reckon it will be their team mates that will be awkward around the if they said they were gay.


    Who in the world of football do you think is hiding a gay life outside of football?

  2. Jason says:

    Great article, Alex. I enjoyed reading this.

    Sadly, I would have to say that the mainstream world is still alarmingly homophobic. Younger members of society associate things that are lame or uncool by calling it “gay,” not even realizing what they are saying.

    It is quite a damn shame to see this insensitivity reaching into the pitch. I imagine the life of a gay professional footballer would be one of the most difficult to live.

    Hopefully, like racism, I hope homophobia will become less frequent and maybe even subdued in the near future.

  3. cracker says:

    you’re an idiot

  4. Cristiano Ronaldo says:

    Not one footballer has come out as gay? What must I do to convince you?

  5. PhilandoTorres says:

    Great article.

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t look like a situation that’s going to improve anytime soon. How often do you hear players speaking up for gay rights? Ultimately, it has to start in the dressing room. If a player came out as gay, he would need the support of his team mates first and foremost. I’m not sure such support would be forthcoming.

  6. jamatthews says:

    CONSPIRACY THEORY: The FA don’t want to properly deal with homophobia because it will make the Premier League less attractive to foreign players.

  7. Shane says:


    “Ultimately, it has to start in the dressing room. If a player came out as gay, he would need the support of his team mates first and foremost. I’m not sure such support would be forthcoming.”

    I reckon team mates would give 100% support to a player who comes out as being a gay man. Here in Ireland a very well known hurling player named Donal Óg Cusack came out and received overwhelming support from everyone in and around the game.

    With football we’re dealing with full time professional grown men with families. Of course they are going to back a team mate…and the terraces should too. It’s a modern society we’re all living in now and the reality is that the majority of players and crowd members have gay family members, relatives or friends.

    Whoever takes the first step will be very brave, but should be fully supported and applauded. Football and football fans need to grow up quickly.

  8. QueerAsFuß says:

    There is Football vr Homophobia day:
    Started by the Jusin Campaign

    Very heartened by the posting of this article and the comments here. Though I honestly wouldn’t like footy any more or less for having openly gay players. I’d rather it just become a non-issue on the pitch- the same as in a perfect world a player’s faith or lack thereof would be.

  9. Homophobic Joe says:

    Piss off you gay twat

  10. Mike Trudeau says:

    Of course anti-gay abuse and prejudice is wrong. I just think that Alex has given himself away as a hypocrite. All Conservatives are racist?? Really?? Smaller government and lower taxes = Racism? You lot on the left really do hate generalisations and stereotypes don’t you!

  11. Alex says:


    It was just a joke. Keep your sense of humour

  12. Great post Alex – the Justin Campaign is trying to battle homophobic elements within the beautiful game. It is a sad fact that homophobia is entrenched within football and until football fans (both straight and from the LGBT community) and the authorities stand up and take notice then the situation for hundreds of thousands of LGBT football fans out there will not get any easier.
    It is more than a decade since Justin Fashanu was found hanged in a empty garage in London. He remains the only openly gay professional footballer in the UK. While there have been massive strides in stadium safety and tackling racism in the game during this period, there has been very little to tackle homophobic elements in ALL spheres of the sport – by this I mean everything from a kickaround with friends to the international stage.
    Every year on February 19 we hold an international Football vs Homophobia day.
    If you are interested in getting involved or simply reading about the campaign please visit http://www.thejustincampaign.com/
    Or you can catch up with us on twitter @justincampaign

  13. Olof Nordenstam says:

    Interesting article. I created a prediction for when there will be another openly gay player in the Premier League here:

    Let’s all predict when this will happen!

  14. Mr. Angry says:


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