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The Sebastian Brown column: We must tackle homophobia in football

The Rock says…

There have been a lot of conversation-stimulating events in football since my last column, many of which are based on prejudice and discrimination in the ‘beautiful game’. Whether it is John Terry’s ‘will he/won’t he?’ captaincy resignation, Fabio Capello’s actual resignation, the Liverpool PR nightmare that is Luis Suarez or the BBC3 documentary presented by the niece of a black, homosexual footballer in the 80s and early 90s before equality and political correctness had really taken hold, the start point is the same: discrimination.

Racism and homophobia are both delicate areas, where it is difficult to tread, particularly in the overly politically correct times of today. The greatest example of this over-carefulness being the offence taken by Amal Fashanu, daughter of former Wimbledon star John, in the above show, to the chant directed at Brighton supporters: ‘we can see you holding hands’.

Yet when she invited openly gay comedian and big Arsenal fan, Matt Lucas to comment, he was surprised and impressed by the wittiness of the chant, Lucas seeming to understand the ‘banter’ of football more than Fashanu, though circumstances may obviously have affected this. Lucas went on to say the real homophobia is the vile personal assaults on players, who are often victims of vicious rumours about their sexuality.

This leads to the question the programme - which had an air of a pilot show for Fashanu to it - sought to understand. Why are there no openly homosexual players in Britain? Is it the dated stereotypes which are still rife in the game? Or the testosterone-fuelled atmosphere of a training ground? Perhaps it is the barrage of abuse players would be subjected to from opposing crowds. Or is it - as was commented by several people both involved and with no interest in football - up to them what happens in their private lives? This is certainly an agreeable stance. Ultimately whether a person prefers men or women is surely irrelevant to their football performance!

Changing attitudes

Those who watched the programme will remember an interview with John McGovern http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UiHtwK_FPjI - 3:50 onwards who, when being told of Brian Clough calling Justin Fashanu a ‘poof’ in an autobiography, breaks into laughter, claiming to not know the meaning of the word.

He them claims that this does not constitute discrimination - in my view, simply laughable in itself. McGovern describes it as ‘banter’, which although can be extremely useful for team cohesion and spirit, can also serve to isolate or bully members of the team.

There is a fantastic section on this in Mark Nesti’s book entitled ‘Psychology in Football’, which I would highly recommend for anyone seeking to work in professional football. Now McGovern is clearly a victim of his era, a time when these comments would be seen as the norm, along with those discriminating against a person’s colour. Though Amal, unwittingly I think, sums it up with the line “there are lots of former players from John’s generation working in and around football today off the pitch....”, thus the cycle continues.

McGovern does make a useful point however, that in the changing room Justin was treated as one of the lads. This may have been a sanctuary for him as the team is often one of the greatest social support networks for players. Therefore it seems unlikely that the changing room atmosphere is stemming the flow of ‘coming outs’ in the game.

There would obviously be the usual comments of “what if he checks me out in the shower?” which is as ridiculous as it is vain. Though the consensus from the Dons boys in the changing room the next day is that it wouldn’t affect how we reacted to one another; a consensus seemingly shared by Millwall players and Twitter hero Joey Barton.

Changing room atmosphere

Most footballers are often more mature than they are given credit for, at least within the confines of the changing room. I suspect the atmosphere within a professional football changing room is a lot different than expected. Most discriminations from within changing room focus solely on the player’s ability on the pitch. Maybe footballers really are as simple as they are made out to be!

Any openly homosexual player would obviously be a target for abuse from opposing fans. Supporters of rival clubs will often seize on any opportunity to single out a player. Some of the comments to Rio Ferdinand by Chelsea fans purely because of his brother’s incident with Blues captain John Terry are simply ludicrous.

Players would be forced to endure this every week - would that make anyone want to come out? If you came out to your office and once a week the whole office started maliciously taunting you, I’m pretty sure you’d start court proceedings sooner than you could say ‘homophobia’. Who remembers at school when kids would do something to get a rise out of you? And your mum would say ‘just ignore them, they’ll soon tire of it’.

Personally I feel football would see this kind of effect should a current player come out as gay. Look how David Beckham went from having effigies burnt of him across England to now being one of Britain’s finest exports. Though obviously you wouldn’t wish the torture of that period on any player or person, very much a martyr for homosexuals.

What can be done?

There is the annual ‘One Game One Community’ days whereby players wear an emblazoned t-shirt in the warm up. I’m skeptical of the efficacy of these days, similarly with the fact that the ‘Respect’ campaign has reduced bookings for dissent and increased referee recruitment.

Though I am aware of several clubs having equality awareness and encouragement programmes in place, though very few that I know of are aimed at sexuality discrimination. There’s no day for ‘kick homophobia out of football’, as far as I’m aware and there are I’m sure thousands of homosexual football fans across the country, whose only protection is the obligatory sign at the front of the stand ‘Any person caught using foul, abusive, homophobic or racist language, will be ejected’.

Though maybe this ultimately answers Amal Fashanu’s question, homosexuals don’t want to be treated differently because of their sexual preference, maybe everyone else should learn to do the same, because in the immortal words of WWF (WWE for you younger readers!) superstar The Rock: “It doesn’t matter...’

What are your thoughts on homophobia in football? How would you stop it? Are you a homosexual supporter? Chat to me on Twitter (@sebbrown1) or by email to sebbrowncolumn@hotmail.co.uk.


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