“I’ve had players over the years who were single and read books and so others [other players] said they must be gay…I think being openly gay would be something very difficult to live with in football…
…You can get drunk and beat up your wife and that’s quite acceptable, but if someone were to say ‘I’m gay’, it’s considered awful. It’s ridiculous.” – Alan Smith (Football Manager)
In 2010 the English FA aimed to shoot a video designed to discourage anti-gay hate-chants on the terraces, however, they reportedly couldn’t find a player from the Premier League willing to endorse it and so postponed the video. In 2005 the FA held a summit aimed at tackling homophobia in football. In that same year when the BBC asked all of the twenty Premiership managers their opinions on the issue as part of an investigation, all twenty refused.
How easy is it to be openly gay and play full-time professional football? To date only two footballers in the history of the game have come out. Anywhere. Justin Fashanu in England and Anton Hysén in Sweden. Fashanu broke the story of his sexuality in The Sun in 1990, claiming to have had an affair with a married Tory MP. His brother John (also a pro footballer) distanced himself, calling Justin an ‘outcast’ while his manager Brian Clough called him a ‘bloody poof’. By the following summer no club would touch him. Hounded by rumours of sexual assault and warrants for arrest, Fashanu took his own life in an abandoned lock-up garage in 1998. He left a note saying
“I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family.”
In 2011 Anton Hysén, born in Liverpool but a Swedish national, came out at the age of 21. Although he plays in the Swedish 3rd division and is part-time, also working in construction, he has played at international level and is the son of well known former Liverpool footballer Glenn Hysén.
It is almost incredible to those outside football that there have been so few openly gay footballers or former footballers (note that many have come out following retirement). While surveys in England claim that 90% of supporters would have no issue with gay players, and anecdotal evidence of professional players claim that the dressing rooms of the popular game would similarly have no issues it is the tradition of abuse from terraces and the career-impact of coming out that stops players making that step.
The same is not true for women, although this can vary internationally as homosexuality is still taboo or illegal in some countries. Infamously Eudy Simelane of the South African women’s national team, openly lesbian, was raped and murdered – what is often called ‘corrective rape’ in South Africa. However Hope Powell, England’s women’s manager is trumpeted in one of the top 100 influential gay and lesbian lists by the Independent.
Homosexuality is associated with a lack of masculinity in football, this seems to be one of the real problems. For instance Cristiano Ronaldo was abused in the British press for being a ‘nancy boy’ because of his diving, feigning injuries and half-time hairstyle changes. Robbie Fowler of Liverpool famously turned his back on Graham Le Saux, bent over and slapped his own buttocks. It was believed LeSaux was gay because he read The Guardian. This questioning of sexuality is also a way of claiming a player isn’t brave enough to play a “man’s game”.
Matt Jarvis, of West Ham, this month appeared on the cover of Attitude. Attitude, a leading gay men’s magazine has previously had David Beckham and Freddie Ljunberg on it’s cover. They are the only three, and of course heterosexual, footballers to appear on it’s cover since it’s inception in 1994. It will be interesting to see if Jarvis will receive stick from the terraces this weekend as West Ham take on Man Utd in the FA Cup.