England cricketer Steve Davis has ‘come out’ as gay. He joins Welsh rugby star Gareth Thomas and the NBA’s John Amaechi as one of the few male sports stars to reveal their sexuality. In an exclusive interview in today’s Sun newspaper (don’t worry….I’m not going to ask you to go and buy it!) Davis said, ‘To speak out is a massive relief for me, but if I can just help one person to deal with their sexuality then that’s all I care about.’
So far, football has remained a very ‘straight’ world and to date the only footballer brave enough to admit to being homosexual is Justin Fashanu. Sadly, Fashanu ‘came out’ in a completely different era to Davis and Thomas and his sexuality was an issue which sadly ruined an extremely promising career.
Fashanu started his career with Norwich City, and was initially signed on the basis of a report from Norwich scout Ronnie Brooks. Brooks believed that Justin was good enough to play for England, and expected great things of the young man. Fashanu was one of the stars of the Norwich side, and famously scored a cracking goal against Liverpool in a 5-2 victory for the Canaries.
The goal was so good that it was used in the opening credits for Match of The Day for some time. I managed to track it down on Youtube, and it is really good. Click here to see it.
Fashanu became the first black player to cost £1 million when he was sold to Nottingham Forest in 1981. Forest manager Brian Clough expected great things of his new signing, but Fashanu’s lifestyle began to become more open and rumours were beginning to circulate regarding his private life.
The stress of having to keep his sexuality secret and the pressure of being a black role model began to tell on the young player. Things weren’t helped by Clough, who was starting to suspect that Justin he would confront Fashanu, and embarrass him with questions about his lifestyle. Once, he even banned the player from training with the rest of the squad because he had heard of Fashanu’s visits to Nottingham’s gay clubs.
Fashanu struggled to find form at Forest and eventually moved on. His career took a nose-dive. The player himself believed that clubs were afraid to take him on because of his private life, and this didn’t help with his performances. He played for a string of English clubs, including Manchester City, West Ham, Leyton Orient and Newcastle but failed to settle at any of them.
When he finally ‘came out’ in 1990 he found that many of his friends and even family members, including his brother John, would have nothing to do with him. At the time, Justin seemed relieved to finally be able to tell the truth, saying ‘It’s okay to allow yourself to express your sexuality.’
Fashanu moved to the US hoping to make a new start, coaching the Maryland Mania. But his troubles followed him there. He was accused of sexually assaulting a 17 year old, and although Fashanu claimed that their relationship had been consensual, he was faced with public humiliation and chose to take his own life. He was 37.
Unfortunately, it would seem that many in the game had learnt nothing from his experience.
His obituary in The Independent started ‘For individuals a little different from the crowd, professional football can be a cruelly insular world, and while sensitivity does exist in the macho environment of dressing room, practice pitch and bar, often it is well advised to keep it’s head down.’
This was certainly the case for Chelsea footballer Greame Le Saux, who found that because he enjoyed visiting art galleries and museums, dressed like ‘a student’ and read the Guardian, ‘it was generally assumed by my teammates that there was something wrong with me. It followed, naturally, that I must be gay.’
Despite the fact that Le Saux had a girlfriend, and later a wife and children, his sexuality was always an issue for both opposing players and fans. He was subjected to vile chants and cruel gestures that would have been unthinkable had the issue in hand been his colour or race. The experience he suffered, might just have put several footballers off admitting to being gay and it would seem that Justin Fashanu’s suffering might have been in vain.
But there is hope! In 2008, ten years after Fashanu’s death the Justin Campaign was launched. The campaign, ‘seeks to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions that exist around Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Trans-Gender people and work towards a future where the visibility of LGB & T people in football in both accepted and celebrated.’ Through sport, art and the media the campaign is working so that the problems faced by Fashanu are lost forever from the game.
Justin Fashanu’s story is a sad and painful one, but it’s one nevertheless that is being used to remove the last taboo from the game of football. Hopefully, the tragedy of this once decent footballer will never be repeated.
Follow Peter Turner on Twitter @petermagpie