Published on 21 Feb 2012 Sections

Football still on the defensive about homophobia

As the Football Association launches its strategy to combat homophobia, David Fuller asks why there is still so much resistance to gay footballers in the professional game.

Stonewall FC are probably the world’s best gay football team – and they are on the front line of the battle against homophobia in football.

Today is their biggest match of the season so far: a cup quarterfinal.

Racism has filled the headlines, with several high-profile incidents leading to Prime Minister David Cameron calling a Downing Street summit later this week.

But for many campaigners, homophobia in football is a much bigger problem – and a fight that has barely begun.

However, as the Football Association launches its strategy to tackle homophobia in the wider game, Stonewall FC see their story as proof that attitudes can change.

Anti-homophobia strategy

In the past the FA has been accused of not taking homophobia seriously enough.

This week’s strategy launch was meant to happen two years ago. Campaigners have accused the FA of getting cold feet.

Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell has been working with the FA for 10 years, and says the association has not come up with enough concrete proposals to counter homophobia.

The FA disagrees. It says it has all the main gay rights groups fully behind its proposals.

‘Stay in the closet’

It was black players that helped defeat racism on the terraces in the 80s. So are we any nearer to seeing gay footballers come out?

Publicist Max Clifford says he knows some gay footballers – and he would advise them to stay in the closet.

As a warning, gay players have the cautionary tale of the first “out” gay footballer, Justin Fashanu, who was bullied over his sexuality and later killed himself.

Most involved in this debate say they are aware of footballers who are out to teammates and those close to them. But what stops them coming out publicly is the reaction of the fans.

Even those on the front line think it would not be possible for a Premier League player to come out. Stonewall’s Jamie Feldman admits he would stay in the closet if he was a professional footballer.

Gay footballers and fans hope to win eventually. But they know it will be a long, hard season.