Homosexuality in English football

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In 2013 American Robbie Rogers (pictured) became the second male footballer based in Britain to come out. At the time he was a free agent having been released from Leeds United. After coming out, Rogers briefly retired before reversing his decision and signing for the club Los Angeles Galaxy.

Homosexuality in English football is sometimes said to be a taboo subject by both players and the media.[1][2] As of 2012, there are no openly gay footballers in England's top four divisions. Some, such as Peter Clayton, who chairs the FA's "Homophobia in Football" working group have argued that clubs prevent players from "coming out" as footballers have an increasing commercial market value which may be damaged.[3]

Homosexuality in the United Kingdom was decriminalised in 1967, leading to a more liberal public attitude. There are many openly gay politicians and entertainers who remained elected and popular with little or no criticism or comment on their sexuality. However, football has been distinctly lacking in openly gay men.[4] Despite this, or perhaps because of this, rumours in the press, or joking between fans and players and even hostile homophobic abuse have been common within the game.

In 2008, ex-Premiership footballer Paul Elliot estimated that at least a dozen Premiership footballers were gay but were afraid to "come out" for fear of a negative reaction.[5]

In a 2009 survey, most fans said they would like to see homophobia taken out of football, that the FA were not doing enough to tackle the issue and that they would be comfortable to see a player on their team come out of the closet.[6]


Against homosexual players[edit]

Justin Fashanu, the first black £1 million footballer, was the first footballer to be openly gay. In his autobiography, Brian Clough recounts a dressing down he gave Fashanu after hearing rumours that he was going to gay bars. "'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?"'[7] Fashanu committed suicide[8] in 1998 after he was questioned by police when a seventeen-year-old boy accused him of sexual assault, and it has been suggested that the tragedy and hostility that struck his life after publicly coming out persuaded other gay footballers that coming out would not be a good idea. The coroner said the prejudices he experienced, plus the sexual assault charge he was facing at the time of his death, probably overwhelmed him.[9]

Against heterosexual players[edit]

Due to his background and interests, some fans and players gave homophobic abuse to Graeme Le Saux

Graeme Le Saux, an England international left-back, endured homophobic taunts despite being married to a woman with children. The rumours allegedly began because of his “unladdish hobbies” which included antique collecting,[8] and his university background. He later admitted he had considered quitting the game because of the abuse and the humiliation he felt. One example of the public abuse he suffered came in a Premier League match between Chelsea and Liverpool on 27 February 1999, Le Saux became involved in a running series of taunts with Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler. With Le Saux preparing to take a free kick, Fowler repeatedly bent over and pointed his backside in the Chelsea player's direction. Despite the obvious taunts, Le Saux, who refused to take the free kick, was booked for delay of play.[10] Unseen by the match officials, Le Saux later struck Fowler on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area.[11] Both were later charged with misconduct by the FA.[12]

In 2008, Sol Campbell received homophobic abuse from Tottenham Hotspur fans while playing for Portsmouth.[13] Campbell is married,[14] and his brother was jailed for 12 months in 2005 after assaulting a classmate who suggested that the defender was gay.[15] In 2009 a man and a boy were found guilty of shouting homophobic chants at Campbell in a match between Portsmouth and Spurs.[16]

By the press[edit]

The News of the World claimed that two Premiership footballers were involved in a gay orgy with a figure in the music industry, allegations repeated in The Sun. Despite being unnamed by the papers, Ashley Cole brought legal action[17] and won apologies and damages from both publications.[18]

After England's exit from the 2006 World Cup, Peter Tatchell complained about the "homophobic smearing" against Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo. The Sun described the player as a "nancy boy" and a "pretty boy".[19]

By those in the game[edit]

Luiz Felipe Scolari denied being homophobic, stating that "My friends include people whose sexual preference is different from my own."[20]

Ex-Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari is on record as stating he would have thrown out of the team a player whom he found to be gay. He made the comments during Brazil's 2002 FIFA World Cup campaign.[21]

"I've had players over the years who were single and read books and so others [other players] said they must be gay...I think being openly gay would be something very difficult to live with in football.... You can get drunk and beat up your wife and that's quite acceptable, but if someone were to say 'I'm gay', it's considered awful. It's ridiculous."

— Former manager Alan Smith speaking on 'the last taboo in football'.[9]

Likewise Djibril Cissé, partly in jest, said that he refused to kiss his team-mates after scoring a goal for fear of being thought of as gay.[9]

Public relations mogul Max Clifford claimed that two major clubs had approached him wishing to portray a "straight" image.[9]

In October 2006, England international Rio Ferdinand caused controversy by calling BBC Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles a 'faggot' live on air, just days after team-mate Paul Scholes was also in trouble for an alleged homophobic remark about him being gay with a funny hair do. Moyles jokingly asked Ferdinand: "If you had to, who would you rather go out with – Smudger [Alan Smith] or Scholesy [Paul Scholes]?". Ferdinand replied: "That is not my bag that, that is not my game, talking about going out with geezers" and when Moyles suggested he would always prefer Smith, Ferdinand declared: "You’re a faggot." He quickly apologised for what he had said, stating "I'm not homophobic".[22]

In 2010 the FA planned to shoot a video designed to discourage anti-gay hate-chants on the terraces. Reportedly they were unable find a player from the Premier League willing to endorse the video and production was postponed.[23] Pundits believed that players were scared to associate themselves with homosexuality.[24]

Anti-homophobic action[edit]

By the FA[edit]

In 2005 the Football Association held a summit aimed at tackling homophobia in football.[25] In that same year when the BBC asked all of the twenty Premiership managers their opinions on the issue as part of an investigation, all twenty refused.[25]

In February 2012, the FA released a video showing a discussion on homophobia in English football between former stars Adrian Williams, John Scales, and Brendon Batson.[26] Later in the month following the set up of a new initiative the FA announced that they would support a Premier League player who openly acknowledged being gay.[27]

By clubs[edit]

From 2007 onwards, homophobic chanting at football grounds was explicitly outlawed by the FA.[28] Tottenham Hotspur have a system in place to allow fans to report any anti-gay chanting and Manchester City are the first Premiership club to have been recognised by pressure group Stonewall as a gay-friendly employer.[29]

In 2009, a football team was named after openly gay footballer Justin Fashanu. The Justin Fashanu All-stars is open to both homosexual and heterosexual players.[30] Stonewall FC, founded by Aslie Pitter after he faced homophobia while playing on existing teams, is a similar initiative.[31]

In July 2012, Liverpool F.C. have announced their participation in Liverpool Pride. In August of the same year, Liverpool F.C. will become the first Premier League club to officially represented at a UK pride event. LFC staff and LFC Ladies FC will be marching together with LFC LGBT and other supporters and a banner from the club will be present. Liverpool F.C. have also hosted the Football v Homophobia tournament early in 2012.[32]

In 2013, Stonewall in conjunction with Paddy Power, launched the 'Right Behind Gay Footballers' campaign, distributing rainbow coloured laces to every professional football player in the UK. Only 2 players in over 5000 professional football players have 'come out' as openly gay, a scenario which has odds of over 1million to 1.The aim of the campaign was to ask players to show support for gay football players and to 'kickstart a fundamental change in attitude.' Players from 52 different clubs wore the laces to show support for gay players and the campaign received over 320 million Twitter impressions, making it the one of the most successful Twitter campaigns in the UK to date.

In 2014, Stonewall teamed up with Paddy Power again, in addition to Metro and the Premier League to lead the second year on the 'RIght Behind Gay Footballers' campaign.

In 2015, Ryman Premier Division team, Dulwich Hamlet, are set to host a friendly against Stonewall FC, the Gay World Champions, on Wednesday 11 February (KO – 7.30pm). The match coincides with Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender History Month, which takes place throughout February. It also forms part of Dulwich Hamlet’s ongoing anti-homophobia campaign.[33]

By fans[edit]

One survey by Staffordshire University showed that more than 90% of football fans would not hold any hostility to a footballer coming out, and suggested that most fans would stand by a gay player who played for their club.[34] The survey showed that most fans expected there would be an openly gay footballer by 2015, and that this would be good for improving the attitude towards homosexuality in the sport.[35]

By players[edit]

Heterosexual Swedish international and former Arsenal and West Ham United midfielder Freddie Ljungberg endured questions over his sexuality "due to his bachelor lifestyle and love of musicals and fashion". Despite denying the speculation, he told the New York Times that "I don’t mind at all. I am proud of that. I love fashion, and I think so many gay people have amazing style. So that is a compliment to me."[36]

The Guardian's Secret Footballer columnist said that a gay player would be accepted in a typical dressing room, and instead said that the worry for any would-be gay player would be the abuse from the terraces.[37]

Women's football[edit]

English Football Hall of Fame inductee Lily Parr was openly lesbian at a time when female homosexuality, whilst (unlike male homosexuality) not illegal, was very much a taboo in British society. In August, 2010, England coach Hope Powell was named in 68th place on The Independent newspaper’s Pink List of influential lesbian and gay people in the UK.[38]

Coming out of the closet[edit]

Arguments have been made for and against a gay player to come out publicly.

Staying in[edit]

Figures such as agent Max Clifford have advised gay players to keep their sexuality a secret for the sake of their careers, saying that to be openly gay would potentially damage their playing prospects.[39] This would also apply abroad, where even if accepted in England a gay player might face a new barrier if he wished to play in a country less accepting of homosexuality. Coming out would undoubtedly bring a gay player abuse from the terraces, and perhaps elsewhere too; this would affect some players more than others.[39]

Tony Cascarino recommends that gay players keep their sexuality secret.

"It's a very sad state of affairs. But it's a fact that homophobia in football is as strong now as it was 10 years ago. If you'd asked me in 2000 whether I thought we'd have a famous, openly gay footballer by 2010 I would have said yes.

— Max Clifford says why he would and has advised gay players to stay closeted.[3]

The reaction to Justin Fashanu after he publicly came out may set a worrying precedent for those considering whether to publicly announce their sexuality.[40]

"Would a player mind if he found out a team-mate was gay? Probably. Players wouldn’t want to be left alone with him, they wouldn’t want to shower with him. Before you rush to criticise, would you find it acceptable for a man to walk around a women’s dressing-room? More importantly, team-mates would be self-conscious around the player. The sexual banter would develop an uncomfortable edge if it continued. It is an undesirable scenario for a manager, since an uneasy and divided squad is not a recipe for success. A gay player himself would probably feel equally ill-at-ease. Dressing-rooms are like perverted nudist camps. Immature, wild places, little self-contained states where the normal rules of common decency and acceptable behaviour do not apply. Sexual activity and bodily functions are props players use for pranks and banter."

— Former Republic of Ireland international Tony Cascarino expresses a gay player's worst fears and believes that football dressing rooms are not mature enough to accept gay players.[2]

Coming out[edit]

"You hate to see homophobia out there, and you don't want to hear it or have it in the clubs, but if there are any gay players they should just come out. That may sound heartless, and I am sure if you are gay there are all sorts of fears and worries, but I do think football can probably cope with it."

— Former Scotland and Chelsea player Pat Nevin was teased by teammates for his interest in the arts despite his heterosexuality, however, Nevin was unaffected by the jibes and feels that homophobia in football is overestimated.[41]

Burnley goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard said that "homosexuals are in need of a [footballing] hero".[42]

List of LGB footballers[edit]

German Thomas Hitzlsperger (pictured) "came out" after retirement from football is currently the only openly gay player to have played in England's Premier League.
Name Nationality Career Date of coming out Notes & references
Liam Davis[43]  England 2004- 2009
Justin Fashanu  England 1978–1997 1990
Aslie Pitter  England ? ?
Robbie Rogers  United States 2005– 2013
Thomas Hitzlsperger  Germany 2001–2013 2014 First openly gay player to have played in the Premier League.


Name Nationality Career Date of coming out Notes & references
Lily Parr  England 1919-1951 ?
Hope Powell  England 1978-1998 ? Managed the England women's team
Casey Stoney  England 1994- 2014 Captain of Team GB at the 2012 Olympics
Megan Harris  England ? ? Lincoln FC player. Partner of Casey Stoney.[44]
Lianne Sanderson  England 1997- 2010 England international

Further reading[edit]

  • Beasley, Neil (2016) Football's Coming Out: Life as a Gay Fan and Player. [London]: Floodlit Dreams Ltd. ISBN 978-0992658564
  • Magrath, Rory (2016) Inclusive Masculinities in Contemporary Football: Men in the Beautiful Game. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 978-1138653610
  • Rogers, Robbie; Marcus, Eric (2014) Coming Out to Play. London: The Robson Press. ISBN 978-1849547208

See also[edit]


  1. ^ OverTimeOnline.co.uk Archived 11 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b "Boys being boys in the dressing-room helps to keep homosexuality in football's closet | Football". Times Online. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  3. ^ a b Harris, Nick; Godwin, Hugh (2009-12-20). "Two top gay footballers stay in closet". The Independent. London. Retrieved 2010-05-04.
  4. ^ Chapman, Mark (21 May 2010). "Inside Sport special – The Last Taboo". BBC Sport. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  5. ^ "Ex-player claims at least 12 Premiership football players 'are gay but afraid to come out'". Dailymail.co.uk. 2008-10-18. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  6. ^ "Football 'failing on homophobia'". BBC Sport. 12 August 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
  7. ^ Clough, Brian (1995). Clough: The Autobiography. Corgi Adult. p. 319 pages. ISBN 0-552-14003-1.
  8. ^ a b "FA Carling Premiership | Anger over gay taunts". BBC News. 1999-03-03. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  9. ^ a b c d "Why are there no openly gay footballers?". BBC News. 11 November 2005. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
  10. ^ Samuel, Martin (10 September 2007). "How gay slurs almost wrecked my career". The Times. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  11. ^ "Le Saux should have gone, admits ref". BBC Sport. 28 February 1999. Retrieved 2012-02-07.
  12. ^ "Anger over gay taunts". BBC Sport. 3 March 1999. Retrieved 2012-02-07.
  13. ^ Peter Tatchell (2007-09-28). "Peter Tatchell: Campbell abuse is Spurs' shame | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  14. ^ "Football star Sol Campbell to wed girl who worked for his ex". mirror.co.uk. 2009-05-24. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  15. ^ Close (2005-06-04). "Sol Campbell's brother jailed for attack over gay rumour | UK news". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  16. ^ "Tottenham supporters guilty of 'disgusting' homophobic football chants aimed at Sol Campbell". The Daily Mail. 2009-05-16. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  17. ^ Roberts, Geneviève (3 March 2006). "Ashley Cole sues over 'gay' report". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-08-12.
  18. ^ "World Cup Football star wins apology over gay orgy rumours". Press Gazette. 26 June 2006. Retrieved 2013-08-12.
  19. ^ Deedes, Henry (2006-07-06). "Ronaldo finds an unlikely defender in Peter Tatchell – Pandora, People". London: The Independent. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  20. ^ McSmith, Andy (13 June 2008). "Luiz Felipe Scolari: If you thought Mourinho was mad...wait till you meet Big Phil". The Independent. Retrieved 22 August 2010.
  21. ^ "Anti-gay Scolari rejects England job – from Pink News – all the latest gay news from the gay community". Pink News. 2006-04-28. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  22. ^ "Ferdinand brands DJ 'a faggot' on air". London: Guardian. 2006-10-02. Retrieved 2008-08-26.
  23. ^ McCann, Eamonn (8 July 2010). "Why are gay footballers still hiding in locker room closets?". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  24. ^ White, Duncan (16 February 2010). "Should gay footballers come out?". The Telegraph. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  25. ^ a b Williams, Matt (2005-11-10). "BBC SPORT | Football | Is homophobia in football still a taboo?". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  26. ^ "VIDEO: New anti-Homophobia in Football film". thefa.com. Retrieved 20 February 2012.
  27. ^ Ashton, Neil (20 February 2012). "FA will back Premier League star who admits to being gay". dailymail.co.uk. Retrieved 22 February 2012.
  28. ^ "Football gay liaison officers start training". pinknews.co.uk. 22 August 2007. Retrieved 13 March 2011.
  29. ^ "Homosexuality & football". Timeout.com. 11 September 2006. Archived from the original on 4 October 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2012.
  30. ^ "UK | England | Sussex | Team named after Justin Fashanu". BBC News. 2009-03-07. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  31. ^ Khevyn Limbajee (2005-11-03). "Programmes | Politics Show | London: Homophobia in football". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-08-28.
  32. ^ Gemma Jaleel (2012-07-10). "Liverpool FC supports city's Gay Pride parade". The Echo. Retrieved 2012-07-31.
  33. ^ http://dhst.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/PRESS-RELEASE-Dulwich-Hamlet-vs-Stonewall-FC-in-anti-homophobia-friendly-11-February-20151.pdf
  34. ^ Geen, Jessica (13 July 2010). "Football study finds 93% of fans disapprove of anti-gay abuse". Pink News. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  35. ^ Doward, Jamie (8 August 2010). "Fans say they would back gay footballers who come out". The Observer. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  36. ^ "Freddie Ljungberg 'proud' of gay gossip". Pink News. 15 June 2010. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  37. ^ "The Secret Footballer: Fans stop gay footballers from coming out". The Guardian. 12 March 2011. Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  38. ^ "The IoS pink List". Independent.co.uk. 2010-08-01. Retrieved 2012-06-24.
  39. ^ a b Palladino, Emanuele (4 July 2010). "Comment is free Time for a gay footballer to follow Gareth Thomas's lead". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  40. ^ "Why are there no openly gay footballers?". BBC Magazine. 11 November 2005. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  41. ^ Barkham, Patrick (10 February 2010). "Can gay footballers ever come out?". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 August 2010.
  42. ^ Ogden, Mark (27 November 2012). "Manchester United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard says homosexual footballers 'need a hero' in the game". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  43. ^ "Liam Davis: 'People aren't hung up on it any more. They move on from their hatred'". The Times. 15 January 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  44. ^ https://www.theguardian.com/football/2013/dec/29/casey-stoney-interview-england-captain-homosexuality

External links[edit]