{mosimage} 10 September ~ On a crisp Saturday afternoon in February at Carrow Road, it’s 3-2 to the away side in a tense First Division clash between Norwich City and title-chasing Liverpool. After the ball is swept across midfield by the home side, a short pass finds 19-year-old starlet Justin Fashanu on the edge of the opposition box. The striker has his back to goal and is being tightly marked by Alan Kennedy, but in one smooth move he flicks the ball up with his right foot (leaving the Liverpool left-back stranded in the process) before turning and unleashing a magnificent left-foot volley which evades the fingertips of a diving Ray Clemence and flies inside the right-hand post.

That magnificent and memorable strike would go on to win Match of the Day’s coveted Goal of the Season award and should have heralded the start of a glorious career for the supremely gifted attacker. However, 18 troubled years later, with his talent largely unfulfilled, Britain’s first million-pound black footballer would end his own life in a disused garage in Shoreditch. A man of many firsts, Fashanu was also the first openly gay professional footballer in the country, a label with which he would struggle throughout his career and indeed his life.

While in the 12 years since that tragic day in east London there have been many more black million-pound players Fashanu remains, to this day, the only footballer to take that brave step out of the closet. The Justin Campaign, named in honour of the star, was set up in 2008 as a reaction to the total lack of action or interest shown by the footballing authorities on the subject of homophobia in football. While racism has been largely kicked out of the game, in Britain anyway, homophobia remains, as BBC Radio 5 Live’s Mark Chapman, who recently spoke to the Justin Campaign, put it, “Football’s last taboo”.

PR guru Max Clifford told last year of a number of gay Premier League players who had approached him about coming out. He advised them not to and it’s hard to disagree with his advice. While football’s attitude to black players may have moved out of the 1980s, its take on homosexuality is still entrenched in a bygone era. From the cliched “banter” of fans, and indeed TV pundits, peppered with outdated machismo and subtle yet distinguishable homophobia to abuse from the terraces (usually ignored by nearby stewards), to the undoubted media circus which would follow an openly gay star, football remains a place unwelcoming to gay players, an indisputable fact borne out by the lack of footballers to take that step out of the closet.

The Justin Campaign, however, has no interest in plumbing the depths of rumour and hearsay and speculating on individual players’ sexuality. Instead we are here to give a voice to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual & trans) community within the game and to pressure the authorities into treating the subject with the respect and seriousness it deserves. Thankfully, things do seem to be finally starting to move in the right direction, with the issue beginning to receive at least some attention in the mainstream media. However, only the first few steps have been taken on this journey to, hopefully, an eventual level playing field for gay players.

We ourselves are now focusing on the second Football v Homophobia Day, which will take place next year on February 19, on the anniversary of Justin’s birthday. The first event, earlier this year, had its focus in Norwich just yards away from Carrow Road where he began his career with the Canaries. On that momentous day events also took place in six other cities in the UK as well as further afield, in Washington DC, Mexico City, Zagreb and Barcelona. However, we want the 2011 event to be even bigger and better and to become a day respected by the whole football community, from the authorities to the clubs and fans.

So please get in touch if you are interested in getting involved, be it turning out for the Justin Fashanu All-Stars team who play in tournaments all over the world, or working with the Campaign itself. And remember, you don’t have to be gay to get involved in the campaign. It is up to all of us, regardless of sexual orientation, race or gender, to stamp out all forms of discrimination from the sport we love. Alan Duffy

Website Twitter  

Comments (4)
Comment by Lincoln 2010-09-10 14:59:05

I thought the days of Robbie Fowler "hilariously" mocking Graeme Le Saux were over. However there has been much chuckling in the media with a nod and a wink at the embrace shared by Pique and Ibrahimovic. In the first instance the guy wasn't even gay and he got abuse his whole career for it, and in the second instance it forced Ibrahimovic to come out and make statements about what he would do to anyone's wife who questioned his sexuality. There is a long way to go in football, Rugby has started to adapt with the former Wales capatain "admitting" he was gay, as if it were some crime. I think it will take a group of players to come out at once to force a change because one player alone could well suffer.

Comment by Paul S 2010-09-10 15:28:06

On Saturday I am playing rugby against Kings Cross Steelers - Britain's only gay rugby club - and no, I don't have a problem with it. If you didn't know who they are you wouldn't realise they were gay - they fit none of the gay stereotypes, can drink as much as anybody else and are as tough as everyone else. Get over it.

Comment by Martin Hatter 2010-09-10 17:53:07

One of the reasons racism has been largely eradicated from the terraces is the criminalization of the abuse and the will to prosecute those responsible.

Perhaps this needs to happen to supporters who shout homophobic abuse? It is, after all, a criminal offence.

If a steward (or supporter or club) was actually to act on this abuse, it must have an effect upon others?

It won'r change ignorant attitudes overnight but it would be a good first step.

Comment by Andy S 2010-09-15 12:48:49

It's important to distinguish between the need to eradicate homophobic chanting from fans at matches and the need to create an environment where athletes are comfortable coming out. Homophobia on the terraces, in journalistic print and in TV studios is - of course - deplorable and always entirely unnecessary.

However, it really, really doesn't matter if athletes choose to come out or not. The beautiful thing about sport is that sport itself simply doesn't care about sexuality, race or prejudice. Only excellence matters. Footballers may be as famous as pop stars, but sport isn't like music. It's important to the successful creative artistic process to express your true self; in sport, coming out provides no sporting advantage whatsoever. So why bother sharing something private with the world when there's no benefit to it? The fact that there has only ever been one openly gay footballer is sad and unrepresentative, but the alternative involves encouraging gay footballers to declare their sexuality when it does nothing for their performance on the pitch - which seems a bit like a witch-hunt. Sport as a whole - and not just football - has a poor record regarding openly gay athletes, something which will happily change with a more tolerant attitude on the terraces. But this change shouldn't be forced on the pitch.

Related articles

Norwich City 3-5 Liverpool, Division One, 1980
20 April ~ Liverpool travel to Carrow Road today hoping to move a step closer to their first League title since 1990. A decade earlier Liverpool went...
Book review: Forbidden Forward
The Justin Fashanu story How much is there left to say about a man of whom so much has already been said? This biography of Justin Fashanu will...
Forbidden Forward
The Justin Fashanu storyby Nick BakerReid Publishing, £14.99Reviewed by Paul BullerFrom WSC 326 April 2014 Buy this book   How much is there...