Robert Hampton

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29th October 2010

Talking Balls
Posted by at 6.57pm | No responses | Gay

Football has never really piqued my curiosity. The offside rule? Penalty shootouts? Meh. But one aspect of the modern game does interest me: when will we see an openly-gay professional football player?

It’s a question that nobody seems to want to address. The FA tried to follow up their successful anti-racism campaign with a similar one against homophobia earlier this year. It fizzled out after no major player would support it. When BBC Radio Five Live tried to survey Premiership clubs about attitudes to homosexuality, nobody answered.

Simon Barnes in the Times pointed out, back in 2006, there is a certain irony that a sport which relies on such close contact between men seems to have an entrenched homophobia. Yet it is there everywhere you look.

The precedents for gay men in the sport are not good. Justin Fashanu came out in 1990, the first (and so far, only) player to do so. Eight years later, with his career in tatters and disowned by his family — he committed suicide. Twenty years later, gay people are accepted in almost every walk of life — but still not football.

Football doesn’t seem to be a game that tolerates diversity. Graeme Le Saux suffered anti-gay taunts on the pitch for years, despite being married with two kids. He was accused of being gay because he read the Guardian rather than the Daily Star. Even the slightest hint of homosexuality must be avoided — in 2005 Djibril Cisse said he would restrain himself in his goal celebrations, lest he be accused of being gay.

It’s easy to say that it doesn’t matter. Keep their private lives private, people say, we don’t want to hear about them. Well, maybe, but this ignores the fact that there are young gay men everywhere crying out for role models — men who play sport just as well as their straight counterparts. Rugby has an example in Gareth Thomas, but it doesn’t look like we’ll get an equivalent in football any time soon.

Max Clifford famously said he has advised two professional footballers to stay in the closet, because football is ‘steeped in homophobia’. Any footballer brave/daft enough to come out would receive a torrent of abuse.

For that pioneer, it would certainly be difficult. But that man could go down in the history books as the person who broke the taboo and started to change attitudes. And maybe then future generations of football fans will be able to get over their issues and accept it as something that doesn’t matter.

Having said all that, I’ll be very surprised if we see an openly gay footballer in the top flight any time soon. It’s a depressing thought, so let’s try and cheer ourselves up with a picture of Tottenham and Welsh left-back Gareth Bale. Calm down, he has a girlfriend.

Gareth Bale


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