Out of the locker room and into the closet

Top-flight British football currently has no openly gay players. In an age when society embraces the sexuality of its sports stars, the footballing world is out of sync. Being gay in the game has always had its stories, conspiracies and arguably – controversies. The Clyde Insider investigates why Britain’s top Leagues struggle to keep up.

The development of hyper masculinity in football

In 1967 significant developments in the decriminalisation of same-sex sexual acts between two men over the age of 21, prompted a cultural shift in opinion and the de-stigmatisation of homosexuality. However, throughout the 1980s the spread of AIDS prompted the rise of intolerant beliefs and homophobia. By the 90s homophobic beliefs were prevalent with 75% of the British population believing that same-sex sex was “always wrong” or “mostly wrong”. The exclusion of homosexuals from mainstream society prompted men at the time to far remove themselves from any behaviours associated with ‘being gay’. Presenting a front of hypermasculinity to avert suspicion. This was certainly not absent from sport and football in particular.

It is proven that sporting activity plays an integral part of creating hegemonic masculinity amongst young men. These behaviours are concentrated on the degrading of homosexual and female individuals and their behaviours. There is a ‘laddish’ culture surrounding football in particular in which an individual must be seen as strong. Effeminate actions and displays of emotion are seen as a weakness in the sport. This hyper masculine culture is a situation made very difficult for a gay man to thrive. Stereotypical qualities associated with homosexual individuals are demonised and humiliated.

Paving the path for homosexual footballers

Justin Fashanu, famously came forward as an openly gay footballer in an exclusive interview with The Sun on the 22nd October 1990. The headline from The Sun read “£1m Football Star: I AM GAY”. Fashanu was the first black footballer to be offered £1 million transfer move, he represented England at full international level, gaining two caps- in games against England and Chile. His announcement to the Sun came at the peak of his career in the early 90s. Following the time after his interview with The Sun, Fashanu was unable to secure a full time contract with any team, despite him being in full physical fitness. Fashanu was subject to torment for his sexuality throughout his career. On arrival at Heart of Midlothian FC, the player was dubbed “the queen of hearts” by mocking fans. His struggle throughout his career preceding his suicide in May 1998, was well documented in the media. His experience with homophobia in his football career leaves a lasting impact for young gay players hoping to enter into the field, and even those who potentially play today but do not feel that they can openly admit their homosexuality. The experience of Fashanu leaves a lasting precedent for anyone wanting to come out in the

sport, that it will have a negative impact on their career and reputation as a player. Although, society may have progressed in their opinions surrounding homosexuality, with gay marriage becoming legal in 2014. The lack of players to come forward highlights how the football community may be less progressive in their outlook to homosexual players.

Premier League campaign hitting a stonewall

The Premier League are playing their part in British Football to show their support for the LGBT community. They came together at the end of 2018, to show their support to individuals with the ‘rainbow laces campaign’ in partnership with Stonewall. This was done as part of its three year partnership with the LGBT charity, to show inclusivity of the group by “football and beyond”. The campaign message was communicated with rainbow patterned laces and armbands available to the players. Substitution boards and their social media showcased the campaign message. However rainbow laces initiatives have been rejected by players and teams. In 2013, previous attempts at the campaign were abandoned by many clubs, claiming that the initiative was disorganised and embarrassing. The clubs stated that the shoelaces arrived without agreement and they felt they were being forced into wearing them with fear that the club would be shown in a bad light. (Mokbel, 2013) It is evident that there was a lack of enthusiasm for Stonewall and the Premier leagues campaign and was not received well by some teams and their players. It highlights the lack of ambition for change by those involved, and although steps are being made to progress with changing attitudes to the LGBT community, those attempts are landing on deaf ears. There is still significant prejudice amongst homosexuals in the football community. According to Stonewall the partners of the rainbow laces campaign, “72% of football fans have heard homophobic language used at a match in the last five years”. Therefore, British football has a long way to go before homosexual players would feel there in a welcome environment.

Inside View

We asked a young professional player moving through the ranks if he thought that Scottish football is ready for a gay footballer to come forward. The young player from Glasgow who preferred not to be named stated: ​“I think it’s time that someone should, I’m sure it’ll be very difficult for them, especially because they will be paving the way for other youth footballers​.” It is clear from the players response that a gay footballer entering into the field would be out of the ordinary for a Glasgow team. The challenge they will face will be off-putting at best paving their way in a famously non-inclusive sport​ “But I think society has become more accepting of gay people and the more people that come forward the more normal it will become. If we continue with no openly gay footballers I think it will just make all the stereotypes worse and keep discouraging gay people from playing the sport.”A​lthough this young player is clearly welcoming of new talent no matter their background, it is obvious that he believes that new gay players would have a huge hurdle to jump in overcoming the stigma facing them in the sport.

His unwillingness to be named, highlights amongst anything else the outstanding stigma attached to homosexuality in the game, but also that in our local area there is still vast improvements required to make football more inclusive to young gay men in Glasgow.

Homosexual players evidently have a lot to overcome in order to be accepted by the majority in British football. The hyper masculine reputation held by football was obvious to the young player we spoke to, as a deterrent for young boys joining the sport. He acknowledged the “homophobic attitude amongst some young boys in football” as a reason for newcomers of different sexuality to feel excluded. He also stated how new youth players “may be put off by what they have heard by football and the chants and language they have heard used by people in the game”. The masculine culture of football was also identified through our survey with 100% of individuals agreeing that the masculine culture reason that prevents gay men from entering the sport,

More recently, in 2014. Thomas Hitzlsperger a retired player from Aston Villa and Everton, came out as gay, the highest profile footballer to do so thus far. Hitzlsperger described how the few days after the interview was published he was bombarded by the media for comment. However, life soon returned to normal. He received little backlash from his statements and he found a new career. In Hitzlsperger’s case his retirement came prior to the announcement that he was a homosexual footballer. Thus although his experience was different to that of Justin Fashanu, their cases are not directly comparable. Hitzlsperger was no longer actively in his football career to receive backlash, in the was that Fashanu was exposed. The player himself believes that there is progress being made in the game in regards to prejudice, although they have a long way to go. Organisations such as the Premier League are more willing to have an open conversation about that topic than ever before.

Even though British football is starting to break ground in becoming more inclusive is football really a safe space for homosexual fans and players ? The announcement of the world cup in Russia, brought questions surrounding the safety of fans traveling to the anti-LGBT country. The danger to fans was evident even before the first match against Saudi Arabia another anti-LGBT country, when a gay couple were viciously attacked. O. Davrius and his partner, a French couple travelling to watch their national team play, were brutally attacked and robbed. The couple were sent to hospital and Davrius sustained possible brain injuries. These attacks sent a loud message to supporters that gay fans were not welcome in the country or at the games. Although these events didn’t happen in Britain, it still resonates a message through the whole community as British fans travelled to see their teams play in the tournament.

Are gay footballers welcome in British football? Attitudes in our culture have definitely progressed over time and LGBT rights are an important topic in today’s society. However, football still has a long way to go. The lack of openly gay footballers in the game currently is a clear indicator that there is not enough support in the community and people are still scared ofthe backlash of coming out in their profession. This is reflected in our survey where 100% of the individuals we asked believed that there are currently gay footballers playing who have not came out. This shows that people are aware of the inability for players to come forward and believe that they have to keep their sexuality a secret in order to succeed. Tough measures will have to be taken to overcome the ingrained stigma of homosexuality in the game, for change homophobic behaviour will need to be stamped out from the clubs the players and the fans. Strict punishments will need to be put in place against anyone guilty of using derogatory language and threatening behaviour. The media response to the next player to come it will undoubtedly be enormous, it is difficult to say how much negativity they will face but as a society and as a game, someone coming forward will be a strong catalyst for change.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *