Gay Times Magazine - - Coming Out For The Game - Words Rob Berke­ley

Bri­tish tabloids have spent a lot of col­umn inches this year ex­hort­ing gay and bi­sex­ual foot­ballers in the English Premier League to come out. On an al­most weekly ba­sis, ar­ti­cles from the likes of The Ap­pren­tice men­tor and West Ham vice-Chair­man, Kar­ren Brady, or out former Leeds foot­ball club direc­tor, David Haigh, be­moan the lack of out pro­fes­sional foot­ballers. It seems a pop­u­lar pas­time to make es­ti­mates of the num­ber of gay play­ers at se­nior lev­els of the men’s game in Eng­land and to spec­u­late on their rea­sons for keep­ing quiet about with whom they have sex. David Haigh, among oth­ers, ar­gues that, “Foot­ball needs them to go pub­lic”. But what­ever the needs of the beau­ti­ful game as a whole, the foot­ballers in ques­tion seem to have de­cided that their per­sonal needs are im­por­tant, too.

The re­lease of the doc­u­men­tary For­bid­den Games: The Justin Fashanu Story is a timely in­ter­ven­tion in this de­bate. It charts the story of Justin Fashanu, the first black player in English foot­ball to earn a one mil­lion pound trans­fer fee. A pre­co­cious tal­ent, tipped to be a ma­jor English foot­balling star, he trag­i­cally ended up com­mit­ting sui­cide at the age of 37 in a Shored­itch lock up af­ter a night in Char­i­ots Sauna. He was on the run from US po­lice who had is­sued a war­rant for his ar­rest for sex­ual as­sault. Justin came out as gay in an in­ter­view with The Sun eight years ear­lier.

Adam Darke and John Carey’s doc­u­men­tary uses stun­ning re­con­struc­tions, ex­haus­tively re­searched ar­chive footage, and can­did in­ter­views with con­tem­po­raries such as foot­ball agent Am­brose Mendy, Liver­pool leg­end John Barnes, and most com­pellingly, Justin’s younger brother, John Fashanu, to weave to­gether this story about a very com­plex char­ac­ter.

Fashanu’s story is in­ter­wo­ven with that of racism and ho­mo­pho­bia in 1980s Eng­land. Trans-racially adopted in the Nor­folk coun­try­side, Justin and John grew up iso­lated from other black peo­ple and re­sent­ful of the sin­gle mother who gave them up. In­creas­ingly re­liant on each other, the brothers de­vel­oped a com­pet­i­tive re­la­tion­ship, which saw John pub­licly de­nounce his brother as “an out­cast” in black news­pa­per The Voice just days af­ter Justin came out. In For­bid­den Games, Darke and Carey al­low John to tell his side of the tale in the doc­u­men­tary, through which he voices his be­lief that his tough, hy­per­mas­cu­line, “Fash the Bash” per­sona did not al­low him to pub­licly ac­cept his brother’s sex­u­al­ity – even of­fer­ing to pay him to keep quiet about it.

In 1981, Justin was kicked out of the Not­ting­ham For­est team when Brian Clough dis­cov­ered he had been go­ing to gay bars in town. His ca­reer never re­cov­ered. Justin had be­come used to me­dia at­ten­tion and pub­lic adu­la­tion at an early age in his home county, which set the stage for a se­ries of in­creas­ingly bizarre tabloid-bait­ing sto­ries in or­der to keep lev­els of in­ter­est in him high. Tory MPs were linked to Justin at the height of the “Back to Ba­sics” sleaze rev­e­la­tions. He also an­nounced a re­la­tion­ship with ac­tress Julie Goodyear in 1991, while play­ing for Torquay United, which kept the pa­parazzi click­ing and Justin in the lime­light.

For­bid­den Games man­ages to cap­ture Justin in happy mo­ments, as well as in mo­ments of high pres­sure and tragedy, and ul­ti­mately mourns the waste of his beauty and tal­ent. It re­minds us that com­ing out is not al­ways an un­al­loyed suc­cess for all of us, and that it mat­ters what sup­port we have from our fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ties, em­ploy­ers and - cru­cially - the broader pub­lic.

So­ci­etal gains in equal­ity are of­ten made on the backs of in­di­vid­u­als, and Justin’s story should give us pause in ask­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of foot­ball play­ers in Eng­land to bear such a heavy bur­den “for the game”.

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