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'Gay Footballers? No, the Fans Wouldn't Have It'
Written by Tristan90 on Tuesday, 1st Aug 2017 15:40

There has been a lot of coverage of late of the anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England in 1967 and much of it celebrates how far we have come in this country in terms of equality and acceptance.

It seems that the issue of gay footballers, conspicuous by their statistically unlikely absence, comes up somewhere in this discussion rather regularly. In these discussions, various related issues are raised and often lead to the conclusion that the football world is just 'not ready' for gay players: the business of football, and the culture of those who follow it, simply is not the place for out gay players.

Gay players wouldn’t be accepted in the dressing rooms, we’re told. Or they’d lose lucrative sponsorship deals. Then the inevitable comes when someone states with confidence that the relentless barrage of homophobic abuse from the terraces would be too much for the player to handle psychologically.

Firstly, although I’m not a professional footballer, I find the suggestion that they wouldn’t be accepted by their team-mates quite bizarre. They already are accepted (probably) in their dressing rooms surely? Besides, what self-respecting metrosexual footballer wouldn’t appreciate a gay team-mate’s trained eye being cast over his dubious fashion choices? *cheap stereotype alert*

As for sponsorship and advertising, I can’t see past a player’s coming out having precisely the opposite effect on his worth as an aesthetic selling point for brands desperate to cash in on the so-called ‘pink pound’ as well as those who are genuinely progressive. We have all seen over this unusually ubiquitous Pride season brands falling over themselves to associate their products with the enormous visibility of Pride; from Skittles’ white packaging (because ‘only one rainbow matters’) to Smirnoff releasing a range of bottles celebrating love, business knows the power of Pride. Imagine the power of Pride plus the Premier League.

But then again I don’t have much (any) experience of the dressing room or of advertising. What I do have considerable experience of, however, is the terraces, or stands as they mainly are now, of the Football League and the chanting and ‘banter’ that goes with them. And I simply don’t buy the idea that fans would make playing unbearable for any gay player.

Obviously, I wouldn’t belittle the psychological impact that homophobic abuse can have on someone; indeed, I have experience homophobic abuse myself in my life, although thankfully most of it has been pretty low level. Of course, the potential of having thousands of people chant abuse at you because of your sexuality when you had taken the decision to be a trailblazer in coming out in the first place would be horrendous, no doubt about it.

The thing is, though, is that this attitude does no justice to the modern football fan. I am unequivocal in saying that modern football crowds are not intrinsically homophobic. That’s not to say there are not homophobes among them, of course there are, but as a group they, *we*, are not a gay-hating, abusive mob.

I’m quite certain that any gay player would be greeted with wolf whistles from opposition supporters, but so are players with long hair, players that re-enact Swan Lake on the pitch and players who appear in their pants on billboards. He would probably also face chants of ‘Does your boyfriend know you’re here?’ but only in the same way young players get asked if their mothers know their whereabouts or similar chants refer to the particularly strong-willed girlfriends of media friendly players. This would not be homophobia and those who suggest it would be are merely adding to the problems we face when we encounter real, dangerous homophobic behaviour.

The point of football chants, the good ones at least, are that they’re funny, tongue-in-cheek and loud. They’re designed to catch the attention of the opposition fans, wind-up opposing players and motivate our own. I can honestly say I have never been at a ground where one racist, sexist or homophobic idiot has started a chant that’s caught on and I have certainly never experienced hundreds or thousands of people coming together to abuse the race, gender or sexuality of any player, manager or official. That’s just not what football is about.

As a gay fan, and one who’s open about and unashamed of their sexuality, I have never felt anything other than welcomed by the family of Ipswich Town supporters with whom I endure terrible away grounds and worse away performances. In fact, I have even taken previous boyfriends to Portman Road on dates; perhaps that goes some way to explain my current singledom!

Many of the stereotypical ‘lads’ that I know from following Town would be undoubtedly judged as small-minded homophobes by those who don’t understand the culture that surrounds following a football team, particularly away from home. I regularly encounter surprise among people I meet that ‘someone like me’ (a combination of the posh-accented, Oxford-educated part and the gay part) can be a football fan and this is the thing that proves that ill-informed reactions and cheap stereotyping can lead to nothing good; if my friends in those pubs at away grounds would be judged as homophobic then I would be too… which rather conflicts with the idea that I should be a football fan anyway!

When we get together we drink, we sing, we are a raucous crowd of blue and white that make our hosts see that Suffolk is well and truly on tour. We’re also friendly, considerate to the home fans, particularly children, and intolerant of behaviour which crosses the line, be it from an opposition fan or one of our own. I am confident that groups like ours in the colours of every club in the country would drown out homophobic chanting were it to occur from our terraces.

The reason I am so confident is because I have seen it happen. On a train back from the last game of the season in Burnley a few years ago, we occupied a carriage and began treating the highly amused train guard to a ‘greatest hits’ of Ipswich Town songs. Guys and girls from 12 to 70 joined in and reminisced about players and triumphs past and looked forward to next season.

Then one rather drunk man began a chant about Norwich City’s Justin Fashanu, Britain’s first and thus far only openly gay player. He barely got halfway through the last line before he was shouted down and admonished. There was a brief awkward silence, the Fashanu chants from the 90s stand is our club’s biggest shame and no one is more ashamed of that dark side to our fans’ history than those who currently wear the blue and white they feel so deeply for.

Then we began a louder, more passionate chorus of ‘We are the Ipswich Town FC’ than we had before. The man who thought it wise to bring homophobia to the party looked sheepish. I’d never been more proud of the fans of my club.

From that moment on, I was more confident than ever being open about my sexuality to fellow fans and more convinced than ever that an Ipswich game was a good date. From then on I was convinced that homophobia from the stands is a thing of the past.

The first gay player will have to take the full glare of the media and the wolf whistles from the terraces. But he knows that. The second and third may get a little bit of the same treatment but the 25th and 42nd will find their sexuality is an irrelevance: it’s their performances that matter.

As a gay fan I have never felt uncomfortable on the terraces. Bar that one Lancashire train ride, I have never heard homophobic chanting and I’ve never heard my fellow fans, of any club, espouse homophobic and abusive views. I have never felt anything other than at home.

We have learned our lessons from the shaming response to Justin Fashanu’s tragic tale and so, whatever your reasoning for gay players not coming out, don’t blame the fans. We’re more than ready.

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LeighOnSeaBlue added 15:53 - Aug 1
Well said I think its about time Gay footballers actually came out. Agreed the first few that do will get abuse during games but that would all die down after more have followed suit. It's about time Football came out of the dark ages as society today is far more accepting of sexuality and the ones that do give abuse will be drowned out by the majority

Superfrans added 16:09 - Aug 1
Brilliant blog. And I totally agree - I can't imagine any of our players having any problem with a gay player. And anyone who did would quickly be admonished, or ostracized by the rest of the team/squad.
I know plenty of gay football fans (including one or two Town ones) and it's simply not an issue among us and their other friends.
And I dare say that the first gay footballers would be widely admired by fans, both their own and opposing fans - I dare say they'd get a few cheers and rounds of applause, even among away fans.

Marshalls_Mullet added 17:02 - Aug 1
I think a gay footballer would be accepted by the vast majority of fans and players.

Would be interested to see a TWTD poll on this!!

wherescounago added 17:10 - Aug 1
Why do people get hung up on Gay footballers coming out in public? Why should they? Throughout history especially in recent times there have been many people in all walks of life who are gay, have done a good job, and some have been heroes, but have not publically "come out" preferring to keep their private and public lives separate. I don't know nor care if there are any gay footballers, if they can improve my team that is fine with me and I am very happy to support them. Maybe those people who make a song and dance as to why no footballers have come out as gay should consider that people may well want to keep their private lives just that - Private!!!

Kuqicoo added 18:05 - Aug 1
Wherescounago...the thing is we have to at some point 'come out'. Otherwise you have to lie and hide. That's the choice.

At some point you have to tell someone. Be it friends, colleagues, family etc. Otherwise what do you say to the awkward questions that will arise? Trust me I hid it for a while and it does your mental health no good. Once people know and don't care it's a huge weight off the shoulders.

But basically my point is we have to tell people eventually. It's a necessity. People are presumed to be straight unless told otherwise. It's really not healthy hiding it away from everyone.

I can understand footballers not wanting to go fully public. To be honest it's probably very likely some footballers have come out to teammates already. I wish it wasn't an issue but sadly it still is.


Tristan90 added 18:52 - Aug 1
Wherescounago- Kuqicoo has basically nailed it. I agree entirely that people who wish to keep their lives and relationships private should be able to do or straight. But the point is that, at the moment, it's not necessarily a choice. I am absolutely sure that there are gay people in football (and indeed in other walks of life) who would like to be able to be open with their colleagues and take their partner to the awards do or the Christmas party or around the pitch on the last day of the season or whatever it might be but feel that they can't.

If you value people's choice to keep their private lives private then you surely have to value the steps we need to take that would show it to be a genuine choice and, in this case, that means speaking out about the need for acceptance for gay footballers. Once there is that acceptance, those who choose to remain private are making a personal choice. At the moment, that is not the case.

wherescounago added 19:41 - Aug 1
I fully accept the comments from the last two posters and I think they accept mine. I don't have any problem with anyone who is LGBTIQ etc. and I accept that people have the right to choose how they lead their lives and good luck to them. It's just that sometimes I do feel that gay people are under pressure to reveal their private lives when maybe they want to be left alone. Putting all that aside if Ipswich had a gay player and he improved the side I think he would be fully supported by all at and supporting the club but I also accept that that may not be the case everywhere.

armchaircritic59 added 22:05 - Aug 1
Excellent blog Tristan90. Don't know if you saw tonights (tues) article with the Rev Richard Coles on the local BBC news? I had to laugh when he said he came out while he was still quite young. Apparently he kept playing the song "i'm coming out" by Diana Ross until his mother eventually caught on and said "Richard, are you trying to tell me something"! There are always a few small minded people about who have such sad lives, they exist by making others lives a misery. It's funny but you don't hear anything like the same amount of fuss if you're a Lesbian it seems (i do know one or two). I have a theory about that, but this is probably not the place to air it! I expect in years to come nobody will have to "come out" as it will be looked upon as pretty much as natural as being "straight". It will only take one or two footballers to come out, (especially high profile ones), take whatever initial flak there is, then i expect the floodgates will open! In case you're wondering i'm gay too. Friends know, but i don't find it necessary to broadcast it. Though i may just have!

Palestine added 23:33 - Aug 1
Good post Tristan, thanks. I must admit I did a double take when I saw it here - first such thing I'd seen and on TWTD no less! Cosmopolitan Ipswich!

And agree with those trying to explain to @wherescounago that currently people don't have the option of keeping it private. You either have to awkwardly avoid or lie to questions, or you would suddenly be 'out'.

Also to that poster - what if we had a gay player who was sh1t? Not just ' we'd support him if he was doing well' - what if he was having a mare?

I also wonder whether chants of 'does your bf know you're here?' - quite funny - would be felt or seen as homophobic and abusive? It's such a fine line...

Finally imagine if the first player who came out had been Norwich's Grant Holt, or that Martin who always scored against us? Wonder what Town fans might have thrown at him then....

All in all I do think a player would be well received by fans, (Chelsea fans??), but it would be such a circus following that first player - more than a female referee, etc, that what player would want that? Football overshadowed (possibly) by so much publicity about his sexuality, boyfriends, etc. Would be unwanted attention. I guess the other side of this might be if livingwith the lie was so damaging to the player's health that they'd feel better off with it out in open.

I like the idea above that some players might have told teammates, but it hasn't left dressing room. Guess that's pretty possible.

dannysigma added 01:10 - Aug 2
One of the things that makes me incredibly proud to be an Ipswich fan is that we are good, good people. We don't abuse other fans. We don't wreck town centres on away days. We don't shout racist or homophobic abuse. This blog is perfect, not just because of what Tristan is saying (which is great) but also because we are the club that makes this difference. We are Ipswich and we love the world!

MarkP1 added 08:47 - Aug 2
Very god blog Tris, but then again I'd expect nothing less. Someone needs to take that step first and let's hope we're not still waiting another 10'years for it.

ChateauWines added 10:21 - Aug 2
Whenever I see the rainbow 🌈 flag I always think of George and Zippy

Ferguson added 16:22 - Aug 2
Go check out St Pauli FC in Bundesliga 2. I think it's still owned by a gay couple who've known each other since they were growing up in the Nazi era. The club's fallen down the leagues a bit recently by virtue of having a no agents fees policy, but its a truly tolerant club. Its support is amazing across all communities and right across the spectrum. ALSO the best merchandise in football.

If LGBT supporters come out then maybe English palyers, managers, owners will follow.

dannysigma added 01:30 - Aug 3
Ferguson - St Pauli and Rayo Vallecano in Spain too!


happybeingblue added 17:31 - Aug 3
I believe the more players that come out the quicker we can move forward with this type of issue,its all about acceptance at the end of the day,i still hear blokes moan about womens football,i shake my head and just think...ffs open your mind a bit,the times are changing but its the dinosaur attitude that needs changing, anyone who is homophobic theses days is very sad in my opinion!
lets face it a lot of us grew up listening to morons making monkey chants at players, and i believe most decent folk will shut people down who want to be homophobic, i know i would !


shropshiretractor added 10:45 - Aug 5
I really don't know why these discussions and opinions from either side keep coming up regarding these subjects.... I don't think they are relevant. I go to see the tractor boys for the football, if the players are gay/neo-nazi/pro communist is their own private issue and I'm happy for them to keep it to themselves and just concentrate on their football!

Marcus added 10:44 - Aug 6
I came out in the 90s and I can assure you it was a much more challenging environment than it is now.

There are a couple of points that I would raise on your excellent blog. Firstly that any chant that is specific on the sexuality of a player IS certainly homophobia, what I think you mean is that it isn't serious enough to be seen as more than banter and the chances are it would only be a few chanting and the more enlightened would shout them down.

Also the Justin Fashanu chant - well, I guess I'm a bit older than you as I can remember train carriages where almost everyone joined in. I'm glad things have improved now. Low level homophobia can be especially damaging to young supporters but a strong counter to homophobia is even better for promoting that we are accepted.

My own history involved a number of violent assaults from a small group of aggressively homophobic supporters in the 90s. When someone decided to walk up to me and throw a fist in my face right in front of an out of uniform police officer at an away game it ended up escalating with the assailant spending time at 'Her Majesty's pleasure' and the police advised my to stop attending games for my own safety as they can't be sure if any of his friends would seek revenge - let's say I started selecting games and didn't renew my season ticket.

I see there are some comments that 'players should keep it to themselves' - well they do. It's almost 100% certain that every team in the country has at least one gay player in their ranks just by laws of averages (and I've had players tell me this without them being more specific). I vehemently disagree. Personally I'm wizened and toughened up enough to not really care for myself, but think about a junior blue or young boy or girl in the crowd who is still coming to terms with their sexuality. Just as much as a heterosexual fans can talk openly to friends about things, it's common that LGBT fans feel the need to repress themselves, mostly due to the fear of being not sure how people will react more than the reality that most people will be supportive.

I will bring my husband to his first ever football match this season (likely to be the Sunderland game). In the 2010s I'm no longer nervous about doing this and look forward to his first ever stadium experience. I know people who know me will welcome him to the game. I'm aware of a few homophobic fans - the ones I know are all relics from the 90s who haven't caught up with time, I'm also sure that for each one of them there are scores of supporters who will be supportive and welcoming.

Please also look for 'Rainbow Tractors' on Facebook and Twitter, a fan group that represents the club at Pride in Football. While it's gone a bit dormant recently due to the founders (I'm one of them) being out of the area for work, it is still active. We have processed three complaints from fans since forming in 2014 - that's an average of just one per season. However our other campaign is one most football fans might not appreciate - trying to make supporting Ipswich accessible to those who fear it's as homophobic as it was in the 70s-90s.

There has been one openly gay person involved at Ipswich - former chairman John Cobbold. He was probably the most popular chairman in the history of the club. It's often forgotten that aggressive homophobia developed in the 1980s (it was different before, more accepted but almost less talked about). I'm just glad the current generation is much more enlightened.

pedlimblue added 12:33 - Aug 22
Interesting - and am glad to have read this on my own club's forum.

Did anyone see the Gareth Thomas programme on BBC about engaging with Palace fans on a forum? Was terrible to see. But it was interesting listening to footballers who have come out (Robbie Rogers said at Leeds the players were so ignorant and homophobic he never considered it) and why they dont - namely that they will become the lightning rod and attract a circus following them everywhere.

I for one think that you are only likely to see professional footballers coming out if it is a superstar like Messi/Ronaldo etc - someone who is untouchable and cannot be ostracized by supporters or sponsors OR if it is a lower league player who realizes that they can make a name for themselves and see better media/sponsorship opportunities.

A well respected agent once told me that big name players get advised not to do it because sponsors, often big multinationals, dont want to have deal with the fallout in countries in Asia, Africa or the Midle East where attitudes to homosexuality are more hostile. Very depressing I must say! One would like to think it would be compensated by the 'pink pound'.

In any case if an ITFC player came out, I for one would be a very proud fan, and would support them in so doing.
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