Liverpool and Everton Set To Lead The Charge Against Homophobia In Football
Football has always had a problematic relationship with homosexuality, dating back several decades. In 1998, Justin Fashanu, the world’s first openly gay professional player, took his own life in tragic circumstances. During a career which had promised so much, Fashanu was plagued by homophobic abuse from supporters and figures within the sport, including the great Brian Clough. Clough regularly referred to Fashanu as a “bloody poof” and even physically abused him on several occasions. In such a hostile environment, it is little wonder that Fashanu ultimately failed to live up to his full potential.
Fashanu came out publicly in 1990, revealing his sexuality in an interview with The Sun. Immediately, he was criticised by figures within the sport, including his own brother John Fashanu, who referred to Justin as an “outcast” and warned him that players would be disgusted to be in the same changing room as him.
As a result of the rejection he experienced, Fashanu’s life soon spiralled out of control. Although his suicide in 1998 followed allegations over his sexual conduct, an inquest into his death concluded that the homophobia he had experienced within the game had contributed towards his feelings of hopelessness. Football as a sport failed Justin Fashanu as a human being.
Today, there are no openly gay players in any of the world’s major football leagues. With the exception of two players – Anton Hysen, who plays in the lower tiers of the Swedish league system, and David Testo, who is currently without a club at all – there are no active, openly gay professional footballers anywhere on the planet.
More recently, several players and managers have been accused of harbouring homophobic views. Federico Macheda, Ravel Morrison and Nile Ranger have all faced disciplinary procedures for posting homophobic messages on social networking sites. Italian striker Antonio Cassano recently caused controversy when he was asked about the possibility of gay players in the national team.
“Fags in the national team? That’s their problem. But I hope not.”
In addition, former World Cup-winning manager Luiz Felipe Scolari once stated:
“If I found out that one of my players was gay, I would throw him off the team.”
Examples of football supporters engaging in anti-gay abuse are not hard to find, either. Former England international Sol Campbell was subjected to taunts about his sexuality by Tottenham fans in 2008. 11 supporters faced criminal prosecution. Popstar Elton John’s time as Chairman of Watford FC was littered with similar incidents of homophobic chanting.
Despite being a country where statistically one in every 16.6 people is homosexual, England has not housed a single gay professional player since Fashanu’s death in 1998. At present, there are over 4,000 active players, making it a statistical inevitability that there are gay players in the English league system, but, for various reasons, they remain silent. The lack of an open, homosexual presence in professional football has a negative effect on the current generation of homosexual youth, who grow up with a very limited depiction of homosexuality. While rugby and cricket have embraced the presence of gay athletes, football lags behind.
However, two clubs in England are set to lead the charge against homophobia in the sport this weekend.
Liverpool FC became the first Premier League club to announce that they will be represented at an LGBT Pride event, confirming their presence for Liverpool Pride on Saturday 4 August. Club staff members and the club’s ladies team will march with a banner sporting the club’s crest and the club has also vowed to donate signed memorabilia for auction in order to raise funds for campaigns against homophobia.
Managing director at Liverpool Football Club Ian Ayre said:
“Here at Liverpool Football Club we continue to demonstrate our commitment to ensuring that equality and principles of inclusion are embedded into all areas of Liverpool Football Club and for many years, we have taken positive steps to promote our stance against homophobia both on and off the pitch.”
The club has already offered its backing to The Justin Campaign, a campaign named after Justin Fashanu, established in order to challenge misconceptions about the LGBT community and increase homosexual participation in the sport at grass-roots level. Furthermore, the club’s academy hosted the Football v Homophobia tournament earlier this year.
Zoran Blackie, chair of Liverpool Pride, said:
“Liverpool Football Club have been going through huge changes and one of them is to work closely with all their supporters. Now by standing alongside us for the march, LFC are showing the LGBT community in the city that ‘we’ll never walk alone’.”
Liverpool’s local rivals Everton have also offered their support to the Pride event this weekend. The club’s official charity, Everton in the Community, have decided to take a stall at the event and the club has been keen to highlight the work they are doing to promote equality.
Jackie Twort, Community Engagement Manager for Everton in the Community was quoted as saying:
“Everton Football Club strives to promote equality and is proud and excited to be a part of Liverpool Pride. Everton in the Community prides itself on pioneering programmes to tackle issues which are often taboo in football and will work hard to demonstrate our commitment to the LGBT community.”
Although neither club’s first team squad will be present at the event, and although football still has a long way to go in its bid to eradicate homophobia, it is nonetheless reassuring to see two of the Premier League’s top clubs taking a stance against anti-gay abuse and promoting LGBT involvement in football.
‘A Culture of Silence: The Story of Football’s Battle With Homophobia’ is available to buy on Kindle format from Amazon.co.uk now.