Cast your minds back to the end of October, where the front page of the Daily Mirror boldly read: ‘2 Prem Stars: We Are Ready To Come Out As Gay’. The pair have said that they will likely reveal themselves at the start of the 2016/17 season, with the newspaper having described them as ‘brave’. But it’s a paradoxical issue – homosexuality in sport is progressing in becoming accepted this century and people argue that this should be downplayed or kept private so as not to sensationalise it. Yet this news is a major step in the change in attitudes for the sport and therefore should be publicised positively and encouragingly. But of course this begs the question – does sexuality in football matter?
The profile of the players who are coming out, where one is believed to have played for England at international level, suggests this could be ground-breaking. But it is definitely not the first case in English footballing history – former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed his sexuality but only after retiring in 2013. But perhaps the most memorable example is Justin Fashanu, the former Norwich and Nottingham Forrest player who also became the first black footballer to be purchased for a sum of £1 million. He publically came out a quarter of a century ago in 1990, but it was saddening to find out that at the time The Sun bought exclusive rights to the story and then published titillating stories that Fashanu claimed were untrue. He was ridiculed in the stands as fans would maliciously chant, and he committed suicide aged 37 in 1998. It’s a haunting precedent for current footballers who think coming out will be met with public backlash.
The chairman for the FA organisation ‘Homophobia in Football’ suggested that clubs stop players from ‘coming out’ as it may damage both their public role and ‘commercial value’. It’s no secret that football is predominantly an androcentric culture and has had many historical accounts of homophobia from the stadium stands. But as a devoted fan to the game I believe that these attitudes have since been eroded as more liberal values are shown in the modern game. Football is not just a sport – for some it’s an integral part of their identity. It has produced some beautiful moments in the face of societal injustices such as racism and xenophobia in recent times – take Dani Alves as an example. In a match against Villarreal last year a fan tossed a banana at his feet before he took a corner. As cool as you like, he picked it up, took a bite, tossed it away and then whipped in a cross. The response from players and fans all over the world was momentous. World-class footballers of different nationalities and clubs took to social media in a moment where the sport united as one to create awareness of the issue and remind us that football can bring people together for a common cause. This is what football is capable of, I think it fitting that we do this in the face of homophobia too.