Professional football: one of the last bastions of homophobia.

By Max Kerr

One of the saddest stories for me to have emerged from football, is that of Justin Fashanu (1961-1998). A talented striker, who played for England, scored the goal of the season while playing for Norwich in 1980, and was the first black footballer to command a million pound transfer fee (to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest), he lived a private life in the shadows. A life that ultimately led to him committing suicide in 1998.

It is a story that reminds me that professional football remains one of the last bastions of homophobia. Being a homosexual footballer is a diversity that cannot be spoken of.

The former German international, Thomas Hitzlsperger, came out as gay, but only after he retired from playing, and worldwide, there are just a handful of players at the lower levels of the game who have declared their homosexuality.

Other professional sports have come to terms with the realisation that there are gay men playing and refereeing up to the very top echelons. Cricketers for example seem to have taken the coming out of their peers in their stride.

That most testosterone-driven sport, rugby union, has accepted that Gareth Thomas, the former Welsh captain is gay, and that the world’s leading referee, Nigel Owen, is, as well.

Indeed a spectator at Twickenham was banned for shouting Neanderthal insults at Nigel Owen during an international game, demonstrating how such behaviour will not be tolerated. There is even an all-gay team playing in the lower leagues in London.

And in football there has been progress.   The recent banning of Andre Gray for his homophobic tweets shows that the football authorities want to set an inclusive agenda.  Arsenal recognise the Gay Gooners and they have a page on the website.

Moreover, the culture of women’s football seems to have allowed for gay women to come out without opprobrium.

Statistically, throughout society, depending on which research you read, the percentage of gay men could be anything between two and twenty per cent – a massive range; while the number of men who admit to having had homosexual experiences is also quite inexact, but leans towards the higher end (i.e. around twenty per cent).

Does professional football attract exclusively heterosexual men? I think it’s very unlikely. But there are only two acknowledged gay professional footballers. Ever. It seems fair to assume, therefore, that in English professional football, there might be anything from fifty to two hundred and fifty gay players, and that therefore there are that many people living secret or unfulfilled lives.

I have a personal interest in this issue. Two of my oldest and closest friends, living within shouting distance of the Emirates, supporters of the Arsenal, have shared a life since before it was legal to do so (homosexuality was de-criminalised in 1967). One assumes that the proportion of gay supporters attending football matches must be similar to the other arenas, but do they have an explicit voice?

It is clearly going to be a very brave young man who is the second active player to come out. I can’t help thinking that whoever is the first will need a lot of support from sympathetic team-mates, but also I do think that once one has spoken out, others will follow, until acceptance becomes the norm.

And I would really love it to be an Arsenal player. I believe the Arsenal of Arsene Wenger would be embracing of such revelations; that the squad are broad minded grown ups who wouldn’t change their behaviour towards a self-proclaimed gay colleague.

As is already mostly the case in wider society, it would be great if, in my lifetime, and that of my old friends, nobody cared any more what a footballer’s sexuality was.

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24 Replies to “Professional football: one of the last bastions of homophobia.”

  1. An interesting article.
    And one on which I can shine a little light as a referee.
    As in the small circle of referees whom I know in person I know that there are lot of gay referees.
    Of course you cannot say that it is like that everywhere but if I know 25 refs personal I think some 6 or 7 are gay. Both male and female referees by the way.
    That would be around 25% in fact. Or maybe it is just because I live close to a big city that this number is higher than in the country side?
    As I think in the city gay people are more accepted. Being more accepted is maybe the wrong expression. Maybe they can go more in a hiding mode as opposed to living in a small rural community where people know each other more and are a bit more conservative in looking at gay people?

    Either way, I know more than a handfull gay referees under my refereeing friends and they are nothing different from me or the rest of the referees I know and who are not gay.

    But to be honest… I don’t know if they have outed themselves outside our referee circle or that many players and clubs now this…let alone supporters….

  2. From a footballing perspective: 🙂

    I do not think that the other players will enjoy this “coming out”. Look, they know these players, and i’m sure they have their thoughts about each other’s character and preferences, but it has nothing to do with the game.

    But it would probably stop many huggings, lying flat on the floor with inviting arms, jumping on player flat on floor in a bundle of bodies, pushing one’s ass back into another player’s crotch and other such close contact events.

    This would change the game of football forever.

  3. Max – Stonewall FC play in amateur football in London – and have done so for 25 years. Apparently they had their anniversary dinner at Emirates Stadium. My old club never played against them but were in the same League.

  4. Para….I have to strongly disagree with you that gay outing en masse in Football would change the game forever. It might change the supporters, the stuffed suits in the FA and the managers but the players really don’t care. Your statement shows a misunderstanding about gay people that is a commonly held misconception:


    Players will still celebrate like you described, will still take showers regardless, will still be comfortable in a common dressing room, etc. THEY know that gay people are first of all people, then gay, just like they are people and then heterosexuals….no big deal!

  5. Excellent article.

    However, I am not as optimistic as you are.

    The Hitzlsperger example is a good one. Whilst the reports in the media suggested his outing received a widespread support, only two active footballers gave a strong support to the German. We should be proud that our former striker Lukas Podolski is one of them which is no surprise to those who follow Lukas on Twitter and have noticed how sensitive he is about human rights (e.g. his visit to the worst concentration camp in the history of mankind Auschwitz). The other one is, well, Joey Barton.

    Secondly, there is a huge chance I will sound a bit disrespectful and arrogant to footballers but examples of, say, John Amaechi, a former basketball player in NBA who came out about his sexuality, and Hitzlsperger are difficult to be compared for number of reasons that put gay footballers in worse position than, say, gay basketball players. Very few football players get academical education during their playing careers (Slaven Bilić is one of rare examples as he graduated law during his playing days) or even afterwards and my experience suggests that educational level plays a big role in acceptance of the gay people among the heterosexuals. On the other hand, basketball players have a better chance to graduate while playing. Again, I don’t have statistical data to back these claims up but I speak from my experience.

    Thirdly, basketball, handball and other in-door sports have less fanatical support than the football clubs have. And, most of those fanatical supporters ask for manliness from their players, something that they consider to be completely opposite to homosexuality. Using inappropriate terms such as “poof” they address to either their opponents or to their own players who don’t put enough manliness into their display. Can you imagine right-wing oriented ultras of Lazio to state public support for Hitzlsperger?

  6. There are topics that shouldn’t even be discussed in sport circles.
    Like Para has said, it will turn people off.

    Hell, no individual is born gay!

    If you grew up making such uncomfortably unnatural choice, then be ready for the backlash. I have no sympathy for you.

    Hate me, call me names, fight me, ridicule me, but it won’t change my view on gayism. It is abnormal. If we must accept it, then we should also accept exhibitionists!

    World powerful countries like the US and the UK have ulterior motives in legalising the insane and so their explanations or actions cannot and will never change my mind.

    Just so we are clear, I do not hate a gay as a human being, no.
    I hate them for their despicable sexuality! For nature’s sake if we should continue giving ‘right’ to people like gays, then one day paedophiles would openly declare, “We were born this way.”

    If you do not know, I was born by the action of a man and a woman and not by that of two men or two women!

  7. “I hate them for their despicable sexuality! For nature’s sake if we should continue giving ‘right’ to people like gays, then one day paedophiles would openly declare, “We were born this way.”

    This is a very common argument among homophobic people regardless of their nationality, religion, race etc.

    No, it’s not the same thing and never will be.

    Homosexual people can engage into a relationship by giving a consent just like heterosexual people do. Pedophiles target children, persons that are under the age when they can give a consent to start a relationship.

  8. @Josif,

    Alright, how does a man thrusting his penis inside the ANUS of another man sound natural or normal to you?

    Or how does a woman playing a man over another woman sound okay to you?

    How did humanity even get here? Oh I remember, it’s called ‘civilisation’.

    Even animals obey nature!

    Make no mistake about it, if Wenger,Ronaldo, Messi, Pep Guardiola, Alexis Sanchez and several other big names in football were to declare for gayism, the backlash would be worse than the recent US police action on FIFA in Switzerland.

    If you are happy with someone of your gender having unnatural relations with you, please keep it to yourself!

    If that makes me homophobic then I am very happy being homophobia. It obviously makes me understand normality.

    I repeat, the way we are going, soon paedophiles would come out to declare they ‘were born that way!’ When that happens, incestuous individuals would follow suit. And then ‘rights’ would be manufactured for them by their culpable government representatives.

    Homophobia? Pwah!
    We should as well obliterate the word ‘immorality’ from our dictionaries. No more feeling bad about armed robbers, rapists, women beaters, exhibitionists etc, where will it end? Nowhere. All because I’m afraid of being termed homophobic. Yes, I am homophobic against gays…absolutely!

  9. I don’t know if people are born homosexual. I think many people are born to push the limits, and will do whatever pushes the limits.

    I strongly disagree about the label “homophobia”. It is not a phobia for most people who exhibit whatever it really is. I strongly disagree with the term “gay” to describe some of these people. Make up their own word, give us back a word for happy.

    I am not neurotypical. In seeing and reading what is produced by the media, I get the feeling that if a person is not sexual, they are nothing. That if a person does not exhibit significant homosexuality, they should not be considered. By significant, I mean at least 10%. That (nearly) “everyone” should have experienced homosexual incidents by the time they become adults. That these incidents should continue into at least early adulthood.

    But in so far that this article is about groups suffering discrimination, I ran across an article out of high school gridiron from Michigan, USA.

    I think “Pork Chop” is a horrible nickname for a player, but I think it is wonderful that he was given the chance to play on a regular basis. And that this particular instance came at the request of the opposing coach/manager!

    Fletcher, I hope you get many more touchdowns, not limited to the athletic field.

  10. omgarsenal
    That’s what i said really.


    But some gay people will be all of those too.

    I used to think gays are only a “natural” way of nature fighting for it’s survival. It genetically changes people in order to assure it’s survival by the changed dying out.

    Now i realise that some are also manipulating genes as nature does. They use soya among other things(manipulating DNA physically in the lab). Have you noticed how many food products contain soya? Soya is proven to change gender in the test mice used. I read somewhere that ancient cultures seemed to only used soya to plant on ground just harvested. It was then cut down and burnt.

    So gay people should not be given or allowed to rear children, but everything else that hetero people have should be available to them without discrimination.

    Anyway there seems to be a scale or spectrum, (much like the shade spectrum of people, darkest dark to lightest light and all shades in between).

    So we have Hetero to Gay with various grades of sexuality in between.

  11. I hope and pray that I should not start with an arsenal player. Imagine the abuse dished out by our own fans on our players now them compare it when Wenger goes on to sign a gay player. What will happen if the coach himself is gay and is trying to sign players?

  12. Its ridiculous that people want to decide what people want to do in 2016. If someone wants to be gay or lesbian or whatever they want, who am I or anyone to say they cannot?

    Yes, if they come and force you to do the same, you have every right to say – ‘No, please go away I do not want to have a relationship with you’. But if not, why do you say they should not be left in peace?

    Para: You say they shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children. If all a child needs is a good home and good values, and gay or lesbian parents can give them those, what is wrong?

    Omo r’Arsenal: What is morality? Why is it immoral for two consenting adults to do what they want to do in the privacy of their home? Try and give me a logical answer.

    Oh and by the way, Arsene Wenger has been a long standing supporter of letting people do what they want. He has even said about homosexuality – ‘The day you no longer ask me this question, the day we no longer talk about it in press conferences – that day is the day when it is no longer a problem.’

  13. Chrystom: Why should it not start with an Arsenal player? What will happen if you find out tomorrow that Arsene was in-fact bi-sexual? Would you demand he resign? Will all his achievements be worth nothing? Because of a personal choice he made?

    If so, why?

  14. The comments on this thread have depressed me. In 2016, we have these attitudes towards people. Despite having all the knowledge in the world at our finger tips.

    Here is Arsene’s interview Omo r’Arsenal. And no, like you so proudly say

    The backlash would be worse than the recent US police action on FIFA in Switzerland.

    …. absolutely nothing of that sort happened.

    Arsene’s views on homo-sexuality

  15. @Arvind,

    We’ll know when he declares himself gay. Or when one of our players does so.

    The problem with some of us on this ridiculous ’21st Century thinking’ is that we want freedom without responsibilities. Rights without conscience. So if a government sanctioned bestiality today, would that make it right?

    I await the day Arsenal would employ the services of a gay manager or player. Then that backlash I mentioned would materialise and we all would see it. Not some interview where Wenger is doing an Arsenal PR job of painting the club and himself in a good light especially in a society that adores a man who penetrates the anus of another man with his penis!

    If you do it in private, good for you, for even some men have sex with animals as well but privately.

    Be a ‘progressive’ and let me homophobic. If gays can come out to poignantly demand for acceptance, hell they must accept my being unapologetically ‘homophobic’ as well!

    I’m out.

  16. In terms of football, there is many small causes why a player has yet to come out.

    Justin Fashanu’s story.
    The pressure of being the “first”.
    The media attention.
    Worries about sponsorship deals.
    Homophobia amongst coaches/managers.
    Homophobia amongst fans.
    Homophobia amongst players.

    You only need to listen to the abuse Brighton City FC get on the regular basis, all because their city is a popular place to live for gay people.

    A big concern might be the fact that in 2018 and 2022, the illustrious leaders of football have decreed that the World Cup will be held in Russia and in Qatar.

    Russia has been introducing homophobic laws over the past few years, LGBT persons have been murdered, tortured and humiliated, with videos posted online. Even mentioning that you are gay in public may earn you time in prison for violating their law on “gay propaganda”.

    Qatar goes a step further and imprisons gay men.

    This is the environment any gay footballer must come out to. It would take an extraordinarily strong character to do so, and maintain focus on their football.

    Omo r’Arsenal

    Its always a tell tale sign that when homophobes talk about homosexuality; Their objections revolve around the sex. You can see the mental imagery whirling around their minds, exciting them at first, then the guilt rushes in for thinking such thoughts. The guilt causes them to reject the imagery.. and reject anything that might trigger those guilt-laden fantasies again. If it that rejection didn’t lead to appalling violence in many cases, I’d say it was ironic.

    But I shan’t stay in the closet as you beg me to do. I’m an Arsenal fan, and I’m gay.

  17. I think that every time a sports person comes out of the closet during their career it gets easier for other athletes to follow suit. Your article reminded me of a video article I had seen last week on a very famous skateboarder who had just come out of the closet. I think that if there is a sport that is mostly insecure teenage boys and one of their better known athletes can come out it can (and should)happen in football.
    Here’s a link to the article.

  18. Omo r’Arsenal
    “I’m out”
    Why do I get a feeling that sentence was cut short for some reason?
    Presumably on a sudden urge of needing to watch some hard core gay porn.
    It should read ” I’m out …….of my mind” ,probably, comparing beastiality to homosexuality.

    I love these types of articles on Untold because they help to get a better idea who all the crackpots around here are 🙂

  19. Very mischievous there Tom! But possibly true.
    Gay players at Arsenal or other clubs should be able to get on with their lives as they wish, but I’m the current climate, I can see why they would not out themselves, not so much because of players, most of whom I would assume to be pretty broad minded these days, but sadly, they would become a magnet tor abuse from fans, look at the grief Sol Campbell and le saux got, and there is no suggestion either are even gay

  20. I did a lot of hair scratching while reading the article and posts. Here’s what I want to say. If u believe in God,his tenets and commandments,homosexualism is wrong and unnatural ( I believe in God) no matter how it’s twisted or packaged. If u don’t believe in God, then u can believe what u will about anything really.
    Coming to gays in football, I agree it will change a lot of things especially in the dressing room. Will I feel comfortable sharing a bunk/shower/letting it all hang loose when a gay tea member is around? I won’t! If my gay teammate “casually” hangs his hand over my shoulders…does it mean he “likes” me? If I do same to him….how will he interprete it? The margin between a successful and unsuccesfull teams are getting smaller by the day. Will having a gay in my team help or hamper our chances of success? Your guess is as good as mine.

  21. It always makes me laugh whenever I see people that claim to be straight, say “homosexuality is a choice”. And how on Earth would you possibly know that, unless you shared those same types of thoughts with the very people you so claim to hate?

    Who really gives a shit if someone is gay? Who someone is attracted to doesn’t change their personality. I really can’t believe what a big deal people make out of it. What people do in their private life is just that; private.

    The utter ignorance and backwards views displayed by a few people in this thread is truly disgusting. I’ve always found that the most outspoken homophobes are usually the ones battling with their own homoerotic thoughts and are just doing it to overcompensate. So have fun with that you complete scum-bags.

  22. Also, there are many species of animal that has sex within the same gender, so to say that it isn’t “natural” is complete rubbish, formed once again, from pure ignorance (as with every single other argument against homosexuality).

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