Thomas Kelly – @TommyKtufc
BREAKING THE STIGMA
On Monday 16th May 2022, 17 year-old Blackpool striker Jake Daniels publicly announced he was tired of hiding who he really was and announced to the world that he was gay. This represented such a big moment in British football as Jake became just the second openly gay player since former Gull Justin Fashanu, who came out to the world over 30 years ago. It’s been a few weeks since then and I’ve been wanting to write a piece on this subject, and seeing as we are in “Pride Month”, now seems a good time as any.
Before I start, for those of you who don’t know, I am out as openly gay and the support from friends and family since coming out at 18 has been nothing short of incredible. I am thankful that in the twelve years since coming out that my experience of anti-gay comments targeted towards myself have been very, very rare. My Torquay United family, those who I stand next too on the Popside and away from home see me just like them, an individual there to enjoy the football, support the team and have a great time catching up over a few pints and some dodgy football ground grub.
However, the same can’t be said for the various anti-gay comments made towards players and officials at various football grounds across the country, to which I have heard way too often for my liking.
You have to go back to 1990, (before I was even born), over 30 years ago to when ex-Gull, Justin Fashanu became the first professional player to come out publicly. Making 41 appearances for the club, scoring 15, Justin came out after fearing being outed by one of the big national newspapers in October 1990. He admitted that his sexual orientation was often joked about in the dressing rooms of teams he played for and was the target of abuse from spectators in the crowd.
No doubt at that point in time, it was such a brave move on his behalf to go public, especially with the fear of being outed by the National Press. The pressure he must have been under at the time whilst trying to continue to play professional football for a living is credit to the man himself.
I’m not best qualified of course to explain how the stigma of how people viewed the gay community in the early 90s were compared to now, but the mentality of the LGBTQ+ community was much different to as it is today in society. It was only in 1992 that the World Health Organisation declassified being gay as a mental illness and 2000 when the armed forces would allow gay people to join. Heck, Same sex marriage was only legalised in the UK in 2013, less than a decade ago.
Sadly we all know how Justin’s story ended, but his mark in sport will live on forever. On our away trip to Altrincham back in January of this year, myself and two friends there for the weekend visited the National Football Museum and it was wonderful to see a display on his behalf entitled “Football v Homophobia”. It really made me reflect and be thankful on just how fortunate I have been to not be discriminated against based on my sexual orientation and to how people in football now feel more comfortable being able to come out in confidence if they feel they want to.
The sad reality is, Jake will most likely be the target of a section of opposition fans for his decision and I’m sure he has very tough skin to be able to ignore them and let his football do the talking. I applaud his courage to be open and I’m sure he will have factored this in his decision to come out to the world. I really hope it is just the start and in years to come, events such as this are no longer considered major news. Football is an inclusive game and yet still we see reports of racist abuse and homophobic chants still prevalent in the game, mostly away from the UK. IT HAS TO STOP.
Football for many is an outlet, a distraction from the workplace and a great opportunity to catch up with friends for a few hours. We know the frustrations and stress that following your team entrails, but all I ask from any player wearing the yellow Torquay shirt, is to give it your all week in and week out for the club and us as fans. There is no excuse for abusing someone verbally for the colour of their skin or for their sexual orientation. We are all supporters and for 90 minutes, all we want is for our team to give it their all and bring home three points as often as we can week in and week out.
I’m all for banter, but there is a limit to when it becomes personal abuse and I urge all football supporters to report any abuse they may hear to the stewards or organisations such as “Kick it out”. It is not OK and it never will be.
FOOTBALL IS FOR EVERYONE
Best of luck to you Jake, I hope your coming out is the ignition to breaking the stigma in professional football and how in future, the focus will be on the football and not the individual’s sexuality.
Up the Yellows