To mark Pride Month – a global celebration of the LGBTQ+ community – OneFootball supports and pays tribute to the LGBTQ+ members in the world of football through a dedicated content series.
Like the majority of football supporters throughout the world, I am a heterosexual man.
I’m telling you this because the fact straight men like me vastly outnumber women and LGBTQ+ people on the terraces is one of the main reasons that, in 2021, the beautiful game still has an ugly problem when it comes to homophobia.
According to a study by the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, 70% of football fans who have attended a match have heard or witnessed homophobia on the terraces while 17% of lesbian, gay, bi and transgender people have experienced and 49% have witnessed homophobia or transphobia in sport.
Of course, football isn’t the only arena in which people are still subjected to vile homophobic abuse but it’s always struck me as odd that it’s so prevalent in the world’s most beloved game because, when you really think about it, football is actually pretty damn homoerotic.
No, really, it is. In what other line of work would it be acceptable for you to celebrate an achievement by whipping off your shirt and letting a load of your same-sex colleagues pile on top of you? (That’s a rhetorical question, please don’t write in).
If you’ve ever played football at any level you’ll probably be all-too-familiar with the good old fashioned “arse tap”. To my mind, there’s no better or easier way to let someone know they’ve done good on a football pitch than by giving them a little pat on the backside – it’s the universal symbol of footballing bonhomie.
Give your 6ft 6” skinheaded centre half a little tap on the tush after a particularly violent tackle down the park on a Sunday and he’s never felt so appreciated, but try it in the pub afterwards and the reaction tends to be rather different. (Seriously, don’t do that, it won’t end well).
“There’s nothing homosexual about testosterone fuelled fellas getting a bit carried away with themselves!” I hear you cry and yeah, you’re half right, but if football doesn’t have a gay bone in its body then why on earth do footballers still shower together after matches and training?
Nearly every professional club now has a state-of-the-art stadium and training facility yet the tradition of a load of blokes needlessly lathering up their naked bodies in close proximity to each other is one that will run and run.
All joking aside though, I don’t wish to trivialise or make light of the horrible homophobia many LGBTQ+ players and supporters will undoubtedly have been on the receiving end of at some stage, my point is merely that if you are a football-loving homophobe, you’re also a bit of a hypocrite.
And it’s that kind of hypocrisy which means that in the 21st century, we still find ourselves in a ridiculous situation whereby there isn’t a single openly gay male footballer currently plying his trade in the English Premier League.
According to Stonewall, three in five football fans believe homophobia dissuades gay professional players from “coming out” while 66% of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people felt there were problems with homophobia and transphobia in sport and that this acted as a barrier to LGBTQ+ people taking part.
The law of averages dictates that a significant number of current professional footballers in the men’s game will be homosexual or bi-sexual yet very, very few of them throughout the world are willing to come out and make their true selves known to the public lest their personal and professional lives be made a misery.
The former Aston Villa and West Ham midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger famously came out once his playing career had finished and though what he did was still extremely admirable, he shouldn’t have had to wait that long to do it. For every Thomas Hitzlsperger there could be several Justin Fashanus, and that’s the tragedy.
This really, really, really shouldn’t still be a thing yet there seems to be a widespread acceptance, even amongst the most liberal, free-thinking football supporters, that “that’s just the way it is” and there’s nothing we can ever do about it.
More than half of football fans think the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League are not doing enough to tackle homophobic abuse but it’s a subject that isn’t talked about nearly as much as it should be and more should be done to promote acceptance and understanding and eradicate this terrible scourge on the game once and for all. That responsibility doesn’t just lie with the Premier League or the FA, it lies with each and every one of us.
We’ve come a long way in many parts of the world from people of colour being unable to step onto a football pitch for fear of being abused about the colour of their skin yet footballers being unable to disclose their sexuality for fear of reprisals is just as bad and, in that respect, we’ve clearly still got a lot of evolving to do.
Author: Dan Burke
Published: 16 July 2021