Tuesday 11 August ~

While the Football Association deliberates about how to tackle homophobia, the publicist Max Clifford ruffled a few feathers last week, saying that English football in the Dark Ages, football supporters are basically homophobic scum, and that "If a gay footballer comes out, his career is over". Out of some 5,000 professional footballers in England and Wales, it is highly probable that a few hundred of these may be gay or bisexual. 

Many of these have gone to great lengths to keep their private lives from being divulged by a gutter press, who seem determined to wage a Macarthyite witch-hunt to expose them. Who can blame them for staying closeted and who would want to be the first to come out? The only known gay player so far was Justin Fashanu – and he committed suicide.

For all the millennium bug-style hysteria, I suspect such a coming out will be a non-event, and for the player in question, it may even lead to commercial openings. Things have changed greatly since Fashanu’s time, with gays visible in all areas of public life outside the sporting world – including the armed forces. Gay football teams even play in local leagues, and some clubs, such as Manchester City, are vying to enter Stonewall’s Workplace Equality index employers’ list.

Piara Powar, the director of Kick It Out, the FA and PFA-funded group responsible for tackling discrimination, thinks that Clifford is scaremongering. For starters, the FA is clamping down on homophobic abuse, with criminal convictions and match bans. Rule E3(2) and E4 of the Players’ Code penalises it as heavily as racial abuse, and match officials are being trained to prevent anything like the Graeme Le Saux-Robbie Fowler incident in 1999 from being repeated. Powar argues such an individual would be feeling more supported than regular players, with most team-mates, fans, and a good proportion of the media rallying round.

For sponsors, the first gay players would be a novelty. Many big-name manufacturers want to promote themselves as gay-friendly. At the same time, very few products, even in sport, sell the traditional, exclusively heterosexual side of masculinity. David Beckham revels in being a gay icon. And here’s one extra reason for coming out: it strengthens team spirit. Cohesion is based on trust, which in turn is based on honesty. There are even psychological studies from Cornell University in the US showing that inability to be open leads to poor performance in spatial reasoning and endurance tests.

Ben Summerskill at Stonewall thinks it could take two decades to eradicate homophobia from the game. As if Oakwell is the new Afghanistan. Challenging ideas of masculinity begins and ends with two simple questions: would any self-important, preening, prima donna footballer care to claim himself more of a man than, for instance, James Wharton, the openly gay trooper featured on the cover of July 2009’s Soldier magazine? Who risks the most in their respective fields of combat?

Sure, it would mean a lot to the gay community if a player were able to come out. Most of us, though, have enough self-respect and without needing a role-model trophy cabinet, thanks. Besides, the world would be a better place if all private affairs of celebrities were kept out of the media. But what is most important is to help create the environment where everyone can be accepted for who they are, and judged on their pitch performance alone. That’s what sportsmanship is all about. Either way, it’s time clubs stopped taking their fans for a fool by having publicists organise tawdry photo-shoot cover-ups with female socialites. Adrian Tippetts

The author is a PR consultant, writes on gay rights issues for Pink News and Winq magazine and is a Sheffield Wednesday supporter.

Comments (11)
Comment by tratorello 2009-08-11 11:57:32

I think that's shocking, the author should consider himself an abomination in the eyes of God and be ashamed, I mean, how can anyone openly claim to be a PR consultant, it's disgusting.

Comment by lukefairweather 2009-08-11 11:57:35

A visit to Vicarage Road, Watford at anytime in the last 30 years would suggest that homophobia is alive and well, at least in the visiting supporters areas.

In case you missed it, our life president and Oscar winner, a certain Mr Elton John has been brave and candid enough to have aligned himself with those of a homosexual persuasion (wot, you didn't know?) and visiting supporters feel duty bound to point this out with tiresome regularity.

Their creativity leads them to enquire as to which part of Mr John's anatomy might be "bent" and to speculate which other parts might therefore be "up for rent". How we laughed on the Rookery. Not.

If Elton suffers this vindictive stupidity - even in his absence -for over 30 years, we can't really expect a player to come out, can we? If we played Eddie Izzard up front, well that might be worth making up a song about. But we wont. We have Danny Graham, worrrrrrrah!

Luke Fairweather

Comment by G.Man wants a hyphen 2009-08-11 13:02:27

I should think that if a number of football players came out, that would be encouraging to young homosexuals who are afraid to be out. So while the out gay community requires no such rolemodels, arguably some who aren't out do. And perhaps the existence of a few gay footballers might offer such a person greater protection from being bullied at school.

Comment by Paul S 2009-08-11 13:22:01

"Gay football teams even play in local leagues, and some clubs, such as Manchester City, are vying to enter Stonewall’s Workplace Equality index employers’ list."

There is also a gay rugby club in London - Kings Cross Steelers - who I have played against many times. I've got no problem with them and no I am not gay.

Comment by Lincoln 2009-08-11 16:47:43

Further to the Watford comments, I have seen Brighton play at various grounds around the country from the home end, although have no particular attachment to them. I cringe every time the home fans chant 'we can see you holding hands' and 'does your boyfriend know you are here'. Mild verbal abuse but if it was to be flipped round to singling out race, the fans involved would be ejected and banned and the particular club slated in the papers. Until something like that happens with homophobic abuse, mild as it may be, I doubt any player will be willing to 'come out'.

Comment by G.Man wants a hyphen 2009-08-11 20:55:42

But do you share the showers with them, Paul?

Comment by Paul S 2009-08-11 21:42:24

Yes actually.

Comment by tratorello 2009-08-12 12:01:37

But surely, to answer Lincoln's valid point, if a footballer, or preferably a bunch of footballers, came out and it became much more normal for footballers to be accepted as gay then I'm sure that after an initial surge, which they'd more than likely have to withstand unfortunately, the amount of homophobic chanting and singing would decline considerably, as it has done with racist chanting.

If most teams ended up having their own homosexual player then the fans of those teams would stop abusing other teams and players because it would become much more accepted, or am I being too optimistic?

Comment by Adrian Tippetts 2009-08-12 13:46:49

Would love G.Man to tell us if he has any reason not to share showers with gay people?

Lincoln and Luke's points, as well as a new report due out from Stonewall, tell me I may be over optimistic. It's really down to the FA to mean what they say about clamping down on this. They have to take leadership on this. Meanwhile, it would be great if other footballers at least were seen to condemn it, especially when their own players become victims, as in the case of Sol Campbell.

Comment by Lincoln 2009-08-12 14:02:52

I agree to, an extent that, a group coming out might help force things. However the examples of Sol Campbell and Graham Le Saux, neither of whom are actually gay, are a cause concern. Perhaps it is because fans know they are probably not gay that they give verbal abuse, and may not do so if they had actually come out.
It must be noted that racism is still very much alive in the game. Keith Alexander has said about being stopped from going into certain parts of away clubs as they are only for managers and the presumption is that a black man would not be a manager. I have unfortunately heard comments shouted from the crowd, and at a playing level have seen an Iraqi referee abused for 90 minutes and afterwards by players and spectators alike. Progress has been made but it is still there and would be the same for homosexuals. At present they need not risk any chance of abuse and may be happy to keep it that way.

Comment by Gratius Falsius 2009-08-15 13:49:55

Perhaps one should look the experience of Rugby League player (and Australian to boot), Ian Roberts, who came out during his playing career. In general the public were very supportive and indeed three Sydney RL icons were encouraged to allow their visages to appear on posters as part of an anti-homophobia campaign.

I suppose him being 1.96 m (6 ft 5 in) and 112 kgs (17 st 9 lbs) and all might have helped.

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