Like London buses along comes another post. It’s one I’ve spent a lot longer writing and researching than any others I’ve written, and it’s about a subject that is quite controversial, and not often discussed – the issue of homosexuality in football.
To this day only two professional footballers have ever come out as gay. One tragically committed suicide while the other plays in the third tier of Swedish football. Without intending to disrespect both the late Justin Fashanu and Anton Hysén, I still feel that there isn’t any real ‘role model’ or representative for homosexuals in the sport.
In recent years, a number of sports have seen high profile, well respected participants come out as gay. The likes of diving, rugby, cricket and boxing for example. Yet Hysén aside, there are no openly gay football players playing currently. Why? We’re now in 2013, why is there not even one professional footballer who feels comfortable enough to come out. Because there are gay players out there, there must be.
A recent study performed by Bill Edgar, football statistician at The Times which was published on the BBC website (here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20801504) shows the chance of there having never been a gay Premier League footballer since 1993 is around 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000/1 (there are twenty-one noughts there if you didn’t want to count) – so it’s stupendously unlikely.
And doing my own mathematics here, on the basis of all Premier League teams having to submit 25-man squads, with approximately 500 players in the division, using the lowest percentage of the national average of 1.5%, as Edgar used, it’d suggest there are around seven or eight gay players currently playing in England’s top division.
There are a number of reasons why I thought I’d share my views on the subject, starting with the recent backing for homosexual players by two Premier League stars in recent months, with West Ham United’s Matt Jarvis even appearing in leading gay magazine Attitude this month.
Jarvis becomes only the third footballer ever to feature on the cover of the magazine after David Beckham and Freddie Ljungberg, and in a detailed interview explains that there isn’t or wouldn’t be an issue with the players or the game, but with the response from the terraces. While he stresses football fans aren’t necessarily homophobic he says: “In that tribal environment, in the heat of the moment and the heat of battle, the songs and chants just bubble up and rain down on you. And if you’re gay and out and that can be used to throw you off [your game], then it’s going to happen.”
The winger believes that a player coming out would help their game, as they could solely focus on playing to the best of their ability, without anything at the back of their minds, but he understands why no player has chosen to after the abuse suffered to the likes of Sol Campbell and Graeme Le Saux during their playing careers (despite both being straight).
“You can’t blame a player for choosing not to put himself through that. You can train, play and go back to the life you want without having to go public and face that. It’s not right, of course, it’s the 21st century, but you have to stand strong to get past that.”
Jarvis has played for four clubs in his career to date; Millwall as a youth player, Gillingham, Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham, but admits he but says he genuinely doesn’t know of a gay player, nor does anyone he’s ever played with, and he himself is married. He believes it’s about time a footballer joins Fashanu and Hysén in coming out as gay and he’d receive great backing and acceptance, explaining: “There’d be support everywhere within the football community, whether it be players, fans or within the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association). There would definitely be groups of people who would be supportive and help them through it.”
Another footballer who has recently come out (pardon the pun) to discus homosexuality within the sport is Manchester United’s Anders Lindegaard in the form of an online blog post (found here (in Danish): http://betting.betfair.com/dk/ambassador/anders-lindegaard/homoseksualitet-i-fodbold-1-231112-539.html). He too has very encouraging comments on the subject.
His view is, like Jarvis that a player would worry about abuse from terraces, and the Danish international also agrees that no players would have a problem. He writes: “As a footballer I think first and foremost that a homosexual colleague is afraid of the reception he could get from the fans. My impression is that the players would not have a problem accepting a homosexual.”
Lindegaard adds: “A lot of football fans are stuck in a time of intolerance that does not deserved to be compared with modern society’s development in the last decades. While the rest of the world has been more liberal, civilised and less prejudiced, the world of football remains stuck in the past when it comes to tolerance.”
The goalkeeper, who confirmed he discussed his blog with his girlfriend before publishing, also stated how he felt not enough is being done, particularly in his native Denmark, making reference to a video made by the Dutch FA, saying ”To turn a blind eye only indicates that one is not recognising that there is a problem. Of course there is a problem if young homosexuals, who love football, have to quit the sport because they feel excluded. That is in every way an unpleasant trend that does not belong in a modern and liberal society. Any discrimination towards people is and should be totally unacceptable, whether it is about skin colour, religion, sexuality etc.”
But of the entire blog post one comment in particular caught my interest significantly. The comment that “Homosexuals are in need of a hero. They are in need of someone who dares to stand up for their sexuality.”
If you know me, or you follow me on Twitter (@blake2108), you’ll probably know by now that I’m homosexual, and as a gay football fan I agree with Lindegaard to some extent. Whist playing the sport was never/has never been an ambition of mine, I have always wanted a player I could look up to, one proud to represent the gay community.
Of course, as in society in general, us homosexual football fans are in the minority and I know of only a small few myself, whose interest in the game is much more than twenty-two athletic men running around in shorts, but I feel it’ll only take one player, one high profile enough to make the difference and change the way homosexuality is treated (or not treated) in football.
I remember when I learnt of Anton Hysén’s coming out. I thought it was a huge milestone in the sport at the time, and I certainly did and still do look up to him in some respect. I admire him for being so brave in coming out and I know he has inspired many, many people. But he plays in the Swedish Third Division, and if truth be told we’d not know who he is if he’d have not come out. That’s what he’s known for, being gay, not for being a (talented) footballer. I wouldn’t call him a ‘gay hero’, the term Lindegaard uses in his blog.
Lindegaard’s comment is true in my case at least but for one word: need. I would love nothing more for this sport than a player coming out, should he chose to, but I don’t need one to. I’m 20 this year and have been a football fan for a long time without a gay player to idolise, and I’ve no doubt there are many fans much older than myself in the same position.
I’m very passionate about this subject for obvious reasons. I aspire to one day have a career in football, albeit as a journalist but I hope I’ll be respected like any other journalist, or fan of the game. Like I’d hope and expect a player to if one ever feels comfortable enough to come out.
I agree with a lot of what both players have said. I’d be lying if I said I believed a player would get no abuse at all from football fans if he were to come out, but it would be in the minority. I see homophobia in football as similar to racism in that respect. It’s in the minority obviously, but I don’t think it’d be something you’d ever be able to fully kick out of the game unfortunately.
I’ve only made it fully public about myself in recent weeks, and the support I’ve received in that time has been fantastic. Hundreds of football fans from all over the country follow me on Twitter, where I do make reference to my sexuality, and I’ve had no negative response from anyone.
I can’t see it being all too different for a footballer. I’d like to praise, and thank both Lindegaard and Jarvis for speaking out on the subject. Very few footballers do. Why, I do not know. But I have a lot of time and respect for them both as I’m sure their comments would be encouraging for any homosexual within the game.
If these positive comments from relatively high profile names in the sport in this country don’t help in encouraging a footballer to come out, I hope it’ll at least encourage their colleagues to talk about the subject, even in a negative light, instead of not acknowledging that the issue exists.
I do believe we are getting closer to a player coming out. Maybe my wanting of it to happen makes me believe that way, but surely, it’s only a matter of time. And when one does, I hope the positive reaction and support I’m confident he’ll receive will encourage many more to do the same.
I stress though that I would never want anyone to feel forced into it or be outed in any way. While on a personal level I know I felt a lot better about myself afterwards, finally being able to be myself and live the life I want to the full with no secrets and no lies, it took me time and it was done on my terms, which is why I understand why a gay player has yet to come out in the Premier League, or any other top division in the world.
I just hope that with recent support and backing from the likes of Lindegaard and Jarvis, and the support Hysén and fellow homosexual sports men and women have received in the last few years, it’s a case of when and how soon, and not if we will see openly gay men playing the beautiful game.
(The full interview with Matt Jarvis is well worth a read, and his issue of Attitude magazine is still available to purchase in shops and online http://www.attitude.co.uk/)
Any thoughts/comments on this post and on the subject will be very much welcomed. Twitter: @blake2108