Homophobia in Football

Kick It Out are leading the way

If the average football fan was asked to name an openly gay player their answer would more than likely be based on speculation rather than fact. This is because in the modern game only one man has openly declared his sexuality, Justin Fashanu, and he sadly took his own life in 1998.

Homophobia is an issue that has very rarely been tackled in the “beautiful game” and is seen by many as a taboo subject, PR tycoon Max Clifford openly admitted telling two big name Premier league players to keep their sexuality hidden because English football “remains in the dark ages and is steeped in homophobia.”

Is this really the attitude that as a society we should be taking? New research conducted by Staffordshire University suggests otherwise, at a time when football’s governing bodies have been told they should be more supportive to openly gay players this comes as welcome news.

Professor Ellis Cashmore one of those involved in the survey said, “It is inconceivable that, out of 500,000 registered players around the world, not one is gay. The truth is that football culture is prohibitive: gay players have neither the confidence nor inclination to come out.”

Assumptions have been made that fans are homophobic toward players and would not accept them in their team but research suggests that this is certainly not the case, in a survey of 3,500 fans, players, referees, and other officials 91% of participants believed that player performance was their greatest concern, while only 9% admitted to being openly homophobic.

Of those that took part in the survey the vast majority believed that the reasons gay players chose to keep their sexuality a secret were down to lack of support from clubs and governing bodies and also because many feared abuse from fans. It is believed that agents have advised players that being openly gay could affect their value and chances of a transfer; Cashmore suggests, “clubs don’t like players that court controversy”, it seems that they are commodities before humans.

Other sports seem to have tackled the issue better than football, for example when Welsh rugby player Gareth Thomas was the target for homophobic abuse during a Super league match against Castleford, the conduct of the home fans saw the club fined a record £40,000. British basketball player John Amaechi came out in 2007 and was the first NBA player to do so in history, and is now a passionate believer in sports men and women needing more support and assistance in dealing with the issue.

Yet football seems to struggle with the idea of gay players, there is a distinct lack of initiatives from the football association and many players would argue a lack of support from the PFA also, Dr Jamie Cleland, who was involved in the research said, “One of the main problems for gay players is whether or not they can count on the support of the PFA.”

An issue that is just as important and serious as racism and hooliganism needs to be addressed in greater detail and offer better support to those that need it. Anyone that is of the belief that gay footballers do not exist is simply avoiding the issue, 30% of professional players surveyed said they knew a gay player, but astonishingly 84% of participants believed that those gay players were under overwhelming pressure to stay silent.

In today’s ever evolving society players should not feel the need to hide who they are, homosexuality is not only accepted but celebrated, and it seems those assumptions that fans are against homosexuality is wide of the mark, one fan who took part in the survey said, “I’d rather have a gay player that can play football, than a straight one that can’t.”

The Football Association have launched limited initiatives to try and combat the issue; they put together a sixty second video to raise awareness about homosexuality in football. It was devised by the “Kick it Out” campaign that has seen huge success in the fight against racism in football, the video was described as “ground-breaking” and received large scale support from the gay community. Though it has to be said unlike the fight against racism not a single high profile player has come forward to front or support the campaign.

It seems that the support is there from fans and it would most definitely be welcomed in all areas of the game but this continuing culture of silence from players and pressure from agents and clubs seems to be where the bulk of the problem lies. Cashmore went on to say, “Our conclusion is that this is not a healthy condition for football and our concern is that football, in this sense, is out of tune with the rest of the sporting world.” As a result of this research both Professor Cashmore and Dr Cleland have sent recommendations to football’s governing bodies suggesting what can be done to help improve the situation.

Though the research reveals a positive image of football culture within this country and seems to disprove the theory of being stuck in the dark ages and steeped in homophobia there is still much more to be done to prevent another tragic incident like that of Justin Fashanu and to simply help and support gay players within the game.

by Patrick Giffney


About upper90magazine
upper90magazine brings you an interesting, exciting, alternative, sometimes, controversial view on the footballing world. We will review everything football, from cold gloomy Non-League games to the thrills and spill of the Champions League.

5 Responses to Homophobia in Football

  1. ellaouise says:

    Well balanced & informative of the biggest sporting taboo.

  2. Steve says:

    I absolutely disagree with the articles conclusion that football fans are ready to accept gay footballers……

    I attend lots of lower league and England games and there are homophobic comments made ALL the time in the stands…even relating to the home teams own players!

    Listening to some England fans abusing a certain Tottenham Hotspurs player at the first England game at the new Wembley beggered belief…to such an extent I called a steward to complain, and who just seemed completely uninterested in the situation.

    As a homosexual football fan myself (like black fans observing racism) it maybe my sensitivities over this issue are higher than “straight” fans, but it also means I can gauge the mood and fans attitude better than a questionnaire ever could and I do not believe the majority of football fans are ready to accept openly gay footballers.

  3. Adam says:

    Why does this even have to be an issue, it”s like being interrested whether a player likes blonds or brunettes. What has a persons sexual orientation got to do with anything. The only time it should come up is when you want to sleep with them. I’m really tired of cultural stereotypes being pushed on society. Eg Black people have to talk like edde murphy, you have to dress like a scarecrow if you like rock music, gay people insist on telling everybody that they are gay etc.

  4. markdbiram2011 says:

    a well written thoughtful piece. it’s certainly an issue that needs to be taken seriously.

    i watch a lot of lower league football, and i can see where steve is coming from too.

    i think that a machista culture is deeply ingrained in our football culture, and that part of the problem is linguistic…many of the insulting terms we use when players are perceived to not be pulling their weight for example, are sexist and suggest women to be inferior, less brave, less courageous or whatever, like calling a player ‘a tart’ or ‘a big girl’s blouse’ or condemning him for ‘pussying out’…football is the last bastion of machismo, language has been established that privileges men over women…this comes out particularly at football..phallocentrism i would call it. homophobia sadly exists within that framework.

    i think the best thing to do is tackle it head on….racist behaviour is rife in russia and elsewhere because there has been no serious attempt to combat it. it was the same in britain a generation ago. attitudes are deeply ingrained, and homophobia will not disappear overnight, but common decency has helped us tackle racism..now it is time to start a long battle against homophobia.

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