In last week’s Dispatch, I did promise to write about something positive seeing that the soul of football has taken somewhat of a battering in the last few weeks. It might give you a better insight into my psyche that I find it easier to rail and wail against the wantonly amoral forces which seem to suck the lifeblood out of the game, rather than celebrating the good things but trust me, I will give you something positive to take away with you by the end of this post, in preparation for all the good tidings you will no doubt be wishing upon your fellow man over the coming days. You might have to read closely, but it’s there somewhere.
The week in football began with many of us shaking our heads in disbelief with the sheer flippancy and ignorance coming out of the ubiquitous Sepp Blatter’s mouth yet again. When FIFA’s president was questioned about the impact that Qatar’s banning of homosexuality might have on the already controversial choice of venue for the 2022 World Cup, Blatter caustically proclaimed that “they [gay fans] should refrain from any kind of sexual activity” whilst in the Middle Eastern state. I’m sure Blatter was not intentionally trying to cause offence, but his giggling mirrored by members of the press corps shone a further light on how football perceives the issue of homosexuality. Perhaps Blatter is still under the impression that all gay people can be encapsulated in the form of a 1970s sitcom in which they all mince about with limp wrists, lasciviously eyeing up anything in trousers whilst screaming out crass suggestive catchphrases like “Hello, Ducky” or “Chase me, chase me”. If he was so open to taking football to new frontiers as he so often likes to remind us, maybe he’d think carefully about trading on misguided stereotypes with a media, which by and large, although paying lip service to political correctness enjoys salivating over misconceived notions of sexuality.
By the end of the week however, the monumental news arrived from the US that the senate had finally voted to lift the controversial ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy which has forced so many servicemen and women to unnecessarily hide their sexuality because it was felt that such inclinations within an individual would damage morale during combat operations. Think about that concept for a moment. No, really, think.
There seems to be a prevalent perception amongst the ‘moral majority’ that homosexuality somehow equates with decadence and depravity and subsequently leads to the ruination of all that was fine and upstanding in the first place. A conversation down the pub (if we’re trading in clichés, we may as well do both sides) about gay footballers will inevitably throw up the argument of ‘well, I wouldn’t want to get showered around them, would you?’ Time and time again, footballers are derided if they show any kind of assumed femininity. David Beckham was ridiculed for wearing Alice bands and sarongs, Graeme Le Saux was mocked and has his sexuality questioned for having the audacity to read The Guardian. On the playground every day, I hear boys throwing the ‘gay’ epithet at each other as a way of provoking a negative reaction. I have a student who recently said, ‘yes, I am’ to such taunts. And guess what? The taunting just dissipated.
All it takes is for one footballer to make that statement; ‘yes, I am’. I appreciate that it is easier said than done, considering the tragedy that befell Justin Fashanu who was forced to ‘come out’, twenty years ago. However, despite what the dinosaurs like Blatter and The Man Down The Pub might believe, the world has changed since Fashanu’s time. When that footballer does decide to bite the bullet and tell us he is gay (and only when he is ready to), then he will have a whole host of support from supporter’s groups, prominent and progressive sporting bodies and hopefully from a squad of his team-mates who’ll value his sporting excellence over his choice of sexual partner. Is Wayne Rooney’s procurement and payment of heterosexual sex really more acceptable than the same-sex relationship that Footballer X finds himself in?
One such organisation is The Justin Campaign which was founded in remembrance of Fashanu’s suicide and seeks to combat and eradicate all aspects of homophobia which still remain prevalent in the game. Through educational workshops and the Justin Fashanu All-Stars football team, the campaign seeks to pressure football’s governing bodies to foster an environment in which gay, lesbian and bisexual people do not feel the need to hide who they are or fear discrimination. By focusing on grassroots, it is hoped that such issues will not even be issues in the coming years. As Jason Hall, the Campaign’s founding director says:
“Justin Fashanu forced the world of football to acknowledge that you can love men, whilst at the same time be a world-class footballer. His bravery has created inroads for our community in the football world and has inspired a generation of gay and bisexual men, who now believe that we too, can be part of the beautiful game.”
Justin Fashanu might be considered the pioneer in that regard. What the game of football now needs, is a watershed. I wrote about football being in the midst of its Dark Ages a couple of weeks ago. That may be the case, but in 2010, the inability by some in the game to accept that it is not the exclusive domain of the heterosexual just as in years past, it was not the exclusive domain of the white man, needs to be challenged, dispelled and nullified as quickly as possible. If you’re a brilliant footballer, you’re a brilliant footballer regardless. Likewise, if my gran is a better penalty-taker than you, then you must be truly dreadful - whether you fancy men or not. Football really is a simple game.
Merry Christmas, one and all, wherever and whoever you are.