First openly gay senior UK player
13 January ~ Over the weekend, 23-year-old Liam Davis, a midfielder with Gainsborough Trinity in the Conference North, became the first person in the UK still playing senior football to publicly announce he is homosexual. In doing so, he now faces the game's most enduring taboo, one which permeates every aspect of the sport from terrace vernacular through to changing room "banter". Whether Thomas Hitzlsperger's widely publicised coming out just days earlier was a catalyst for this announcement is unclear.
What is for certain is the lingering question about when a current player in this country would be brave enough to come forward and announce himself as gay has now been answered. The fact it was a non-League player who chose to do so puts a slightly different slant on the story.
On paper it's trailblazing: not only is Davis openly gay, he is openly in a relationship with another man. The problem from the wider media's perspective is how exclusive this story is, given it's a part-time player in the sixth level of English football. Were a similar news item to break about a Premier League international it would inevitably be front-page news. A cursory glance at Monday morning's newspapers shows practically zero coverage of the story (though coincidentally, many reported on a campaign highlighting homophobia in the work place) pointing to either a lack of awareness or a lack of interest.
Reaction when the news first broke on the Lincolnshire Echo website was mixed. Messages of support were contrasted by claims that it was self-indulgent attention seeking, rather ignoring the potential ridicule and persecution that can befall anyone who comes out, particularly in a traditionally masculine environment.
Others suggested it wasn't news at all, pointing to Stonewall FC, a gay team who play in the Middlesex County Football League. The fundamental difference presumably is that Davis plays for a heterosexual team in a league that sometimes attracts four-figure crowds. If message boards are an early barometer of opinion, public support at grounds may not be entirely unanimous.
Only time will tell how significant this story will be. It would be hoped that if or when a prominent professional player goes down the same path, Davis's contribution to the sport's evolution is not simply trivialised or airbrushed out. Non-League football has too often existed in a vacuum, where anything that happens outside the professional game is somehow deemed irrelevant or less newsworthy.
Davis concedes that the “further up the football pyramid the harder it will be for a gay footballer to come out” but also hopes that what he has done will make others feel more comfortable about coming out, whatever level they play at. Either way, it is a pioneering decision which should be acknowledge as an important milestone for both players and supporters. Mike Bayly