— Chelsea FC Women (@ChelseaFCW) June 27, 2020
There is a large whiff of corporate BS about some of Chelsea’s involvement with Pride but no matter. The club’s ambassador for this year’s London Pride was former Blues, West Ham & England footballer Claire Rafferty, interviewed here in a section of the ground that would once have been partially populated by people clutching National Front newspapers purchased in & around the vicinity of the stadium. A bit of corporate BS can be excused in comparison to those dismal days. I followed Claire’s last few seasons as a player & also followed her on Twitter until she left the club for West Ham but had no idea that she was gay until she mentions it in this interview. Maybe she has banged on about her sexual preferences constantly & I have spent the last five years in Vanuatu with that religious sect who pray to pictures of Prince Philip, believing him to be a divine being. Or maybe she is happy to acknowledge being gay in a natural, relaxed & unforced way when the subject arises but has more usually concentrated on talking about football & her own career within it. Either way it doesn’t really matter. She is able to choose when or where, or whether or not to discuss her private life. This illustrates a maturity & freedom surrounding societal attitudes towards women in sport that is wholly denied to gay male footballers in the most oppressive & suffocating way imaginable. When will this end?
As far as I am aware there have only been three openly gay male footballers who have plied their trade in England, & only one (Justin Fashanu at the latter end of his career) who played here after announcing it. I never saw Fashanu or ex Leeds winger Robbie Rogers play which leaves Thomas Hitzlsperger of the dynamite left foot as the only gay male I have ever seen on an English football pitch. Yeah. Sure. The masonic silence within the game on the subject is frankly ridiculous & very unhealthy. I have just heard the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens on Desert Island Discs be allowed to deny to presenter Lauren Laverne that he had approved the fatwa issued to Salman Rushdie in the late 1980’s. There is television footage on YouTube showing him do exactly that. Trump is a liar. Our own, abysmal PM appears to do little else but lie. Oh, & fuck. I’m sick of lies & delusion at present. We all do it to some degree but to see evasion & dishonesty hold sway to the extent it currently does is thoroughly depressing.
We are clearly on the cusp of a second lockdown & if/when it arrives any mooted return to professional football grounds by fans will doubtless be instantly shooed away for at least the remainder of 2020. There are clearly scores of footballers who are gay & many of them are doubtless of the wholly correct opinion that it is nobody’s business but theirs. What of the others, those that feel they live a lie but remain in fear of unwanted press exposure & open ridicule & abuse from fans? It feels like now might be a good time to grasp the nettle & come out. Of course this will still take enormous courage but there is unlikely to be any fan attendance at matches for at least 6 months now. This hiatus surely offers the potential for any news about the first currently outed gay footballer to become old hat by the time the situation changes. You would also suspect that more than one player would emerge once the ice was broken & the first move made. Just a thought.
Most football supporters in my childhood never baulked at buying records by gay artists or watching films starring gay actors. Sport was different because being gay was equated with a simpering, effete weediness as portrayed by cardboard cutout gay television grotesques like John Inman or Larry Grayson. This pathetic & outdated stereotype has long since been shown to be the lie it always was. Justin Fashanu was seemingly a sad, deluded, wayward & morally incontinent individual but was a superb physical specimen & hard as nails on a football pitch. Sadly the world was still not ready for a gay footballer in the early 1990’s when he confirmed publicly what had long been rumoured. His yearning to make money appeared to outweigh becoming a trailblazing icon in any case. Elton John becoming Watford chairman in the 1970’s was proof perfect that the concept of a gay footballer would remain taboo for decades. He’s shot/He’s come/Up Graham Taylor’s bum/Elton John/Elton John sang the Oxford United fans at their team’s game against Watford the first time the clubs met after Elton took over as chairman at Vicarage Road. I bet plenty of them bought Rocket Man though. I thought the chant was hilarious at the time. I was also about 14. Is everyone around football to remain a giggling schoolboy in perpetuity or are we ready to finally grow up? I believe we are but then my life won’t be picked over in The Sun or on Twitter in the aftermath of any announcement. Calling the bigot’s bluff has to be called sometime though. Why not now?
In the women’s game they are streets ahead. There are lots of openly gay women playing at the top level, five of them involved in the England team’s World Cup campaign last summer. There would appear to be little or no pressure on those who are also gay but simply don’t feel the need to announce it to the world at large. It’s all so sensible & adult compared to the anachronistic, paranoid claustrophobia of male professional football. Some players even have partners playing for rival WSL clubs. Former Chelsea forward Ramona Bachmann’s other half Alisha Lehmann plays for West Ham. Nobody seems fazed & neither should they, although imagining similar scenarios in the Premier League does make the mind boggle somewhat.
In truth I’m not sure the world is yet ready for Harry Kane to announce he’s tying the knot with Harry Maguire.
One step at a time brothers. One step at a time.