The idea of coming out while still playing went through my mind. I tried to prepare for it. I was curious to find out how my teammates would react, how the fans and media would react. But it just wasn’t the right time. People tried to protect me and it worked. That’s why for Jake to be so clear – at his age – is brilliant.(Thomas Hitzelberger from Guardian)
Three things are remarkable about the recent public coming out of Jake Daniels. First, he is the only professional English footballer to come out while playing since Justin Fashanu…in 1990, thirty-two years ago. Second, he has come out at the beginning of this career. Fashanu agonised for years about going public. Hitzelberger, a German, was a premiership player for Aston Villa but came out practically on retirement. Third, we have been waiting since 1990 for another current Premiership footballer to come out.
Gay players historically have been justifiably apprehensive about the negative effects on their career, the attitude of their clubs and managers, as well as abuse from fellow players and the fans (even their own so-called fans). Jake has signed his first professional contract just a few weeks ago, with Blackpool who play their football in the Championship (the second tier of English football) and are known as the ‘Seasiders’. He has been supported by his club, the professional players association (PFA), Stonewall and the governing bodies of the game.
Daniels has become only the second current male player in world football to come out as gay, following in the footsteps of Josh Cavallo, of Australian side Adelaide United.
The English football captain, Harry Kane, pundits like Gary Neville and Gary Lineker, have all made public statements of support. This is quite a change to what happened when Justin Fashanu came out in an exclusive article in the Sun newspaper in 1990. After coming out he played on for seven years but in clubs and roles of ever decreasing stature.
The tragedy of Justin Fashanu
Even before coming out Fashanu experienced a lot of homophobic attitudes. Brian Clough, his Notts Forest manager in his autobiography reports how he gave him a dressing down after hearing he had been visiting gay clubs:
“‘Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?’ I asked him. ‘A baker’s, I suppose.’ ‘Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?’ ‘A butcher’s.’ ‘So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs’ club?
Some people on the left remember Clough’s support for striking miners but he was far from enlightened on homosexuality.
Although Fashanu claimed that he was generally well accepted by his fellow players, he freely admitted that they would often joke maliciously about his sexual orientation, and he also became the target of constant crowd abuse because of it.
His brother John Fashanu, a successful top level footballer was not supportive of his brother. He responded to Justin coming out with an exclusive article for The Voice under the headline “John Fashanu: My Gay Brother is an Outcast.”
John Fashanu later regretted some of the comments he made when his brother first came out. Even though he still did not really accept the reality of his brother’s sexuality. In an interview with TalkSPORT in 2012, he claimed his brother was not gay and was merely an attention seeker.
Tragically, following a police prosecution in America concerning a sexual encounter with a seventeen year old, he came back to England, shortly before tragically taking his own life. In his suicide note he stated that the relationship had been consensual.
Homophobic abuse by fans
As a ‘Seasider’ standing on the terraces in my youth I remember how homophobic abuse was meted out to referees or any effeminate looking player or one making an important mistake. Stonewall reports that 72% of football fans today have said they have heard homophobic abuse. Graeme Le Saux (who played for Chelsea and Blackburn Rovers – and is not gay – experienced a lot of abuse because he was seen as a bit of an intellectual who read a quality newspaper and had a passion for arts and culture. Arsène Wenger the hugely successful Arsenal manager was regularly taunted by opposing fans – again I guess because he did not fit the stereotypical figure of a football manager in the style of a Brian Clough or Sam Allardyce.
Clubs are much more vigilant about racist abuse than in the past and action is taken more consistently by them against abusive fans. Players are also challenged on this and can be suspended and/or fined. The same rules should be applied to homophobic abuse.
Will it make a difference?
The fact that Jake is a young man, expresses a new attitude among younger generations that is more open and accepting of different forms of sexuality. It is indicative of a change in his local town, he was born in Bispham which is just up from Blackpool’s north shore. Blackpool is a big holiday entertainment venue. It used to host (and perhaps still does to a degree) the stand-up comedians who plied their trade in the working men’s clubs but whose bread and butter humour was sexist, racist and homophobic. Today one of the most successful shows in Blackpool, Funny Girls is a transvestite revue that pulls in thousands each week to the old Odeon cinema throughout the year.
The town prides itself on being ‘gay friendly’ with its official tourist board lists of gay friendly hotels, bars and clubs. Queens Street is the gay quarter. There is an annual Pride event. This is in a town which has often spawned extreme right wing groups and has a history of reactionary MPs. It voted 68% for Brexit and is currently a ‘Red Wall’ seat with two tory MPs. It used to have a Labour MP in Blackpool South which includes some of the most deprived wards in the country.
Cynics may say the ‘pink pound’ is helping to stall a tourist decline fuelled by cheap foreign holidays but I think it does represent a change in attitudes that is reflected in big national surveys too. It certainly destroys the myth that the key for Labour to win back such seats is to downplay any progressive liberal attitudes. The idea that working class people in such areas are all reactionary on gender or sexuality issues is just not borne out in practice.
If we need any evidence about the impact of Jake Daniels’ brave move you can do no better than to take a look at an article by Jack Duncan at the openDemocracy website. Duncan shows how his own sporting career was held back by homophobic attitudes and thinks Daniels stance will have a huge impact.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar the World Cup venue
The upcoming world cup in Qatar is taking place in a country where homosexuality is illegal. The authorities there are insisting that it will be welcoming to gay fans. However there are reports of a number of FIFA recommended hotels not welcoming same sex couples and others ‘accepting’ such couples as long as they do not make any public displays of affection! The football authorities have already demeaned themselves in making Qatar the host nation as a result of fairly blatant bribery. FIFA have also failed to have much of an impact on the horrendous death toll of migrant workers who are building the stadia. At the very least they should not concede on this issue. Hopefully some players will be making this point as we lead up to the start of the tournament.
As for Jake Daniels, he scored 30 goals for the youth team this season and has just signed a full professional contract. A promising career ahead of him. Let’s hope his new notoriety does not affect his development. No doubt he will have to carefully manage his football and his role as a new young leader in the gay community. Jake will find it all much easier if the gay players in the highest tier of the game, in the English Premiership, started to come out too. Surely they must be experiencing what he has expressed so clearly:
“I’ve hated lying my whole life and feeling the need to change to fit in. I want to be a role model myself by doing this.
There are people out there in the same space as me that may not feel comfortable revealing their sexuality. I just want to tell them that you don’t have to change who you are, or how you should be, just to fit in.”
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