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One of the best known football players in the English Soccer league is the late Justin Fashanu. He would have turned 59 years old on 19 February 2020. Today, on his birthday,  we remember his career and achievements on what has become recognised as ‘Justin Fashanu day’ in the Football v Homophobia Month of Action. Justin’s career came to an abrupt end on 2 May 1998 when,at just 37 years old, he took his own life. He is recognised as a talented young player who began his career in 1978 at Norwich City Football Club. He rapidly rose in the public eye and became the first black football player to command a £1million transfer fee, when he transferred to play for Nottingham Forest in 1981.

Justin Fashanu

Although he was known to be gay early in his career within the safe environment of his club, he made the brave choice to publicly confirm his sexuality in an interview with The Sun newspaper. This move effectively ended his footballing career with no football clubs offering him a contract after this. The Gay Times spoke of the interview shortly after it was published on 22 May1990 and said:

“The Sun dragged out the tale with titillating stories of sexual encounters with unnamed MPs, football players and pop stars, which, he claims, were largely untrue. The revelations, nevertheless, earned him a considerable sum of money but he says he was offered even more by others who wanted him to stay in the closet. He admits that he wasn’t fully prepared for the backlash that followed and his career in football … has suffered “heavy damage”. Although he’s fully fit, no club has offered him a full-time contract since the story first appeared”

It is fair to say that Justin’s decision to take his own life cannot solely be attributed to his homosexuality. However, coming out as a gay black man in the harsh world of professional football most certainly played a part. Although modern football proclaims itself inclusive to diversity, homosexuality is still barely tolerated. Justin Fashanu is very much in the minority when it comes to being an openly gay player in the beautiful game. In fact, if we look at the 2019 World Cup as an example, just 40 players, one coach and one trainer are among the out participants at the 2019 Women’s World Cup. During the male tournament in 2018, there were none. In the English Football League There is not one single male player, who is openly gay or bisexual.

Justin Fashanu

It is unacceptable that in todays enlightened societies, where LGBTQ+ partnerships are widely accepted and where it is possible in many counties for same-sex partners to legally marry, there is so little equality when it comes to football. Young players and support staff should not feel that they have to hide their sexuality. So, today we remember the brave actions and bright career of Justin Fashanu, wish him a Happy Heavenly Birthday and hope that his legacy lives on to promote positive change in all sporting specialisms.

Lisa Lloyd

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