Homosexuality & football

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  • The game has over the past 20 years done so much to eradicate racist chanting but for so long it refused to even acknowledge, let alone tackle, the vile homophobic abuse that is heard at grounds during every game. (Just wait for the first player to go down injured and brace yourself as the cries of ‘get up you poof’ resound through the stands.) However, in recent months two clubs have taken a brave lead on this front. First, Tottenham Hotspur officially condemned anti-gay chanting and offered its fans a route to report any offenders.

    Then, Manchester City became the first ever football club to be recognised by gay rights group Stonewall as gay-friendly employers. City have hired gay people to work at their stadium and training ground, give Manchester’s main gay amateur football team free tickets and coaching, and are backing local gay rights groups and AIDS fundraising campaigns. This is an incredible and commendable step. Stonewall says that other clubs are already in talks to follow City’s lead.

    Now that their employers are starting to create a more gay-friendly environment, how long can it be before a player finds the courage to come out? Well, before we get carried away, there is still a lot of homophobia in football. Just recently, Rangers defender Marvin Andrews called gay people ‘an abomination’ who required curing.

    However, simple mathematics dictates that every team in the league will almost certainly include a player who is secretly gay. I am the UK’s only out gay football writer and have discussed this issue with professional players. A very well-known player, who asked not to be named in this article, has told me that he would have no problem training, competing and showering alongside a gay team-mate. He insists that in the modern game, most players would be as welcoming as him.

    Tabloid newspapers have recently worked themselves into frenzied speculation about which players might be secretly gay. Chelsea’s Ashley Cole launched and won a legal action over incorrect speculation about his own sexuality. But the increasing intensity of interest in gay footballers is yet another reason why closeted gay footballers should come out on their own terms, rather than as the result of a salacious tabloid exposé.

    So much has changed in the past eight years. Back when I wrote my last article on this topic, it was unthinkable that football clubs would be actively pursuing gay-friendly policies. But now that is a fact of life. It can’t be long until gay footballers are also a fact of life.

    Chas Newkey-Burden’s new book ‘The Reduced History of Britain’ is out now (Andre Deutsch, £8.99).

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