Alex Meredith interviews a gay football journalist about his experiences of homophobia in the game.
Homophobia has always been rife in the world of football, but can it ever change?
Gay rights group Stonewall attempted to combat this through its ‘Right Behind Gay Footballers’ campaign in late September.
Stonewall sent rainbow laces to all 134 of Britain’s professional football teams, urging clubs to make a stance against homophobia.
But the scheme faced mixed support with Everton the only premier league club to fully support it. Manchester United snubbed it due to it being funded by Paddy Power, a rival of the league’s sponsor Sky Bet.
I spoke to gay football journalist Steve Robinson as a gay man at the front line of the issue. He’s asked that his real name not be used, believing he’d get a bad reaction if he was out at work.
Steve said, “The idea of homosexuality is almost seen as football’s dirty little secret. I’ve spent hours at training grounds and football matches and have seen how gay people are often referred to.” His worst experience being with a football manager who told him; “gay people were sick in the head and if he found out one of his players was gay he would sell him.”
On Stonewall’s campaign, he said; “the idea is good, but let’s be honest, how much does changing the colour of your laces on your football boots really achieve?”
“It brings more attention to the problem, but it doesn’t get to the real root of the problem, and that’s the way people involved in football view homosexuality. It is a good idea but it won’t have any effect at all, and it will all be forgotten about.”
A YouGov survey of over 2,000 football fans from across Britain finds that over half of fans think the FA, Premier League and Football League are not doing enough to tackle anti-gay abuse.
We spoke about why players will not come out as gay “they won’t because they’re frightened of the reaction of their team-mates, manager and opposition fans.”
“They would open themselves up to all kind of abuse, so why would you volunteer and put yourself forward to get all that week after week? They fear it will harm their chance of employment and that clubs wouldn’t want to sign them because of the extra attention it would create.”
But would coming out be all that beneficial? Justin Fashinu came out in 1990 but still to this day remains one of only two openly gay English professional footballers. Steve continues; “they would get so much stick every time they took to the pitch, and fear they could end up losing money because clubs may not want to sign them.
“When you’re in and around people all day every day who are telling you gay people are sick, or mentally ill, you’re hardly going to volunteer that information about yourself.
He concludes “I guess you won’t actually know their reaction until they’re told but it’s certainly looked down upon in football at the moment and that makes it difficult.”
Stonewall’s campaign was a bold one, but this time, it failed to make much of an impression. But with other sports, such as rugby opening up to gay players, hopefully football isn’t too far behind.