Can homophobia ever be kicked out of football?

December 18, 2012 in Features

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Let me take a break from talking about the trials and tribulations occurring at Newcastle United, and talk about a very controversial topic in football - homosexuality. Widely known as a taboo topic among football and the media surrounding it, there are currently no openly gay footballers among the top four divisions in English football, which is odd, considering that England in general is fairly liberal about homosexuality; seeing as many entertainers on TV are gay, so why not footballers?

I think it all stems from the first openly gay footballer. Justin Fashanu had a tragic end after what seemed to be a very promising start to his career. The first black £1m footballer, he signed for Nottingham Forest, but during his tenure there, his relationship with manager Brian Clough quickly deteriorated, with Clough not being comfortable about Fashanu’s supposed visits to gay nightclubs. Once, while dressing down Fashanu, Clough was quoted as saying “‘Where do you go if you want to buy a loaf of bread?’ ‘A baker’s, I suppose’, ‘Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?’ ‘A butcher’s.’ ‘So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs’ club?’”, and after this, Fashanu became a bit of a walkabout, being on 19 other clubs’ books, before committing suicide in 1998. He had even stated that once he fully came out - in an interview with The Sun in 1990 - no club wanted him, and that it caused his career heavy damage. Even his brother, famous Wimbledon ex-player John Fashanu, disowned his brother for these revelations. In 2012, members of the Fashanu family spoke about Justin. His niece, Amal, John’s daughter, presented a show on BBC Three, Britain’s Gay Footballers, in which she stated that football needs more people like Justin if the homophobic barriers in the game are going to be broken down. John said that he believes he could have done more and that he has cried for the past two decades about his brother.

Many players have had to endure homophobic taunts, one notably being Graeme Le Saux, who not only had to take chants from crowds about his sexual preference, but in a match between Chelsea and Liverpool in 1999, Robbie Fowler taunted him as he was about to take a free kick, bending over and pointed his backside in the Chelsea player’s direction. Other players who have had to endure taunts and heckling, and even stories in the media, have been Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Freddie Ljungberg, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Arguments have been made for and against coming out of the closet in the sport. Former Republic of Ireland international Tony Cascarino said something that particularly caught my eye:

“Would a player mind if he found out a team-mate was gay? Probably. Players wouldn’t want to be left alone with him, they wouldn’t want to shower with him. Before you rush to criticise, would you find it acceptable for a man to walk around a women’s dressing-room? More importantly, team-mates would be self-conscious around the player. The sexual banter would develop an uncomfortable edge if it continued. It is an undesirable scenario for a manager, since an uneasy and divided squad is not a recipe for success. A gay player himself would probably feel equally ill-at-ease. Dressing rooms are like perverted nudist camps. Immature, wild places, little self-contained states where the normal rules of common decency and acceptable behaviour do not apply. Sexual activity and bodily functions are props players use for pranks and banter.”

And while this was from a player who retired in 2000, the echoes still ring true today. Every once in a while, someone says or does something that leads back to the suggestion that players could be homophobic towards a gay teammate. Even esteemed manager, Luis Felipe Scolari, who isn’t the most retiring of souls, said that if any player in his team was openly gay, he would throw them out of the squad. He said this during his tenure as Brazil coach during World Cup 2002. And in 2006, Chris Moyles jokingly asked Rio Ferdinand on his radio show, whether he would rather go out with Alan Smith or Paul Scholes, and when Moyles joked about preferring Smith, Ferdinand called him a “faggot”.

To be fair, players and clubs have recently started to try to make efforts to reduce homophobia in the game; Spurs have a system to allow fans to report chanting, Manchester City have been recognised as a gay-friendly employer by pressure group Stonewall, and Liverpool were the first club to have participated in a UK pride event. So clubs are making efforts, but still no players want to fully come out. Manchester United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard recently said to the media that homosexuals need a gay footballing hero, and I believe he’s right, but in all honesty, I think we’re still a while away from seeing that become a reality.

Homophobia in football is still as strong as it was 30 years ago, when Fashanu was first rumoured to be gay. There should be at least one openly gay footballer in England, but sadly, there isn’t. I still think players and managers would be uncomfortable having a homosexual player in the locker room with them, as unfortunate that is to say. And that’s not even reporting from the fans. Stepping outside of England for a second, and stepping into Russia, Zenit fan club Landscrona, sent the club a letter saying that they want traditions to be upheld within their club, and theywant the club to refrain from buying black or gay players, saying that it would help Zenit maintain their national identity as a club. And this is coming from the country, that in six short years, will be hosting the 2018 World Cup. The grandest stage of them all, but they won’t accept players from a different race or sexual preference. That’s going to go down well, isn’t it? I believe having the World Cup in Russia is actually going to set the game further back. By that time, I imagine someone, somewhere, will be willing to out themselves, but because of the World Cup, they won’t be able to.

It’s a problem that must be resolved. This is 2012, and there isn’t room for narrow mindedness in the game any more  It’s the biggest sport in the world, yet I can’t think of one current openly gay player. Segregation was deemed okay back in the 1950-60s, but there is simply no place for it in the modern game. Players should be allowed to be who they are , and be free with it, not confined to their own houses with this. So thank you FIFA, you’ve put the World Cup in one of the most right wing countries in the world, and please, don’t be surprised when players get abused, or fans get assaulted - which is what will happen, you can essentially guarantee it. And then it’ll be Qatar 2022, the less said about that the better. FIFA has made some terrible choices with their placing of the World Cup, but what can I say? That money.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes this week’s article from myself. Be sure to join me, Dan Lloyd, as we take one last look at the Mayan calendar before the apocalypse, or as I like to call it, purity commitment day. Until then, keep following me on Twitter @drl_nufc, as well as the rest of the Ballsy Banter crew. See you soon mi amigos, ciao.

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