LGBTQ+ Representation in Football: Inclusion in the Beautiful Game

By Massimo Castelli

Inclusion in football has always been a tough subject to broach for many of those who support and play the beautiful, because let’s face it, football is a straight man’s game. Unfortunately, being part of the LGBTQ+ community as a professional footballer is still seen as an issue many of those in the game avoid. In 2009 Journalist Matt Williams wrote an article called ‘is homophobia in football still a taboo?’ that summed up the issues at the time within the topflight of English football: “But while the clubs’ reluctance to speak is not evidence or proof in itself of homophobia in football being a problem.

“it does perhaps show the subject remains something of a taboo in the game.” 

Now although Williams’ article was written over a decade agonow, the issues he raised like the fact that all 20 of the premier league managers refused to comment on the issue and the fact there was a denial about homophobia in the game are just as important as ever. Openly gay footballers are a very rare occurrences in topflight football all over the world, one of the highest profile cases was that of the tragic story of Justin Fashanu. With Pride month in full swing and what would have been Fashanu’s 60th birthday just past on 19th February now feels like the right time to talk about him and others who are discriminated against. 

Fashanu was a working-class player from a working-classbackground. His talent as a footballer was undeniableimmediately with performances that had him marked as one of England’s future stars. Fashanu was also the first black player to be sold for one million pounds.

However, no matter how many amazing goals he scored or incredible performances he put out many football fans saw him as one thing. Black. Racial abuse has always been an abhorrent feature of Football and during the 1980’s the game was rife with racial abuse. Fashanu’s position as one of England’s best new talents combined with his race, and the rumours of his sexuality and frequent sights at gay nightclubs led to his career nosedive that ended in a Knee injury that ensured he would remain on the outskirts of topflight football for the rest of his career.  

Fashanu eventually sold his story to tabloid paper The Sun saying: “Papers like The Sun are the ones that football fans read. 

“If I had gone with a serious paper then The Sun would have hounded me for the rest of my life.”

He was very truthful in his account of his sexuality, not just coming out but he also listed of high-profile sexual partners, from Members of Parliament to well-known soap stars. 

After moving to coaching Fashanu’s life was turned upside down in March 1998 that he was accused of sexual assault by a 17-year-old male. Homosexual acts were illegal in Maryland at the time, but Justin denied the accusations and fled the country. Two months later, he was found hanging in a deserted Lock up. A suicide note claimed his innocence, claiming the sex had been consensual.

Fashanu’s story is a Tragic one with an unpleasant ending. However, his name still lives on through the Justin Fashanu Foundation, a charity set up in 2019 by Amal Fashanu, Justin Fashanu’s Niece that helps with Discrimination within Football. The foundation recently shared a letter written by an anonymous Premier League Footballer. In the letter the Player says: “I am gay. Even writing that down in this letter is a big step for me.

“But only my family members and a select group of friends are aware of my sexuality. I don’t feel ready to share it with my team or manager.”

Although this player and many like him feel like the environment of Football is not a safe one to be open with there are steps being taking in the right direction as initiatives like the English Football Associations ‘Widening lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representation in football’and The Justin Fashanu Foundation’s work as a charity organisation against discrimination has allowed the future of the beautiful game just that much brighter.