Those who have been around football as long as I have will know of past footballers who are gay. As long ago as the seventies, when working in Fleet Street, I knew of players who were homosexual. I was not alone. Other football reporters knew.
In my thirty six years in the media (the majority of it either writing about football, producing coverage of the game or interviewing footballers) I know of fewer than a handful of players who were gay. Now, as then, they have not gone public regarding their sexuality.
Actor Ian McKellen says that, in these more enlightened times, gay footballers should come out of the closet.
To my generation McKellen is a top class actor whose career is one that includes several roles of note. A serious actor of quality. To a younger generation he is famous for playing Gandolph in the Lord of Rings triology.
He recently reacted to comments made by Roy Hodgson. The England manager said that he had never met a gay footballer.
McKellen told The Independent: “This man is not living in the real world. He’s too absorbed in his own world, and clearly it’s a world in which to be gay is not an easy thing. Five hundred professional soccer players in this country and not one of them out?
“What is going to make the FA face up to their responsibilities of the people it’s looking after? Premiership clubs: what is their problem? They’re living in the past. They’re so old-fashioned. They are way back in the 19th century.”
It would take a brave man currently playing professional football to publicly declare himself to be gay. Such a footballer would no doubt be the target of ignorant chants from the terraces, but I doubt he would be treated differently by those he worked with. In times past, for sure. But not in this day and age, surely.
But then Gareth Thomas only ‘came out’ after he had retired from rugby. McKellen met Thomas shortly thereafter.
The actor recalls: “Gareth told me it was the best thing he had ever done in his life. But he came out after he’d retired because all that time he was frightened.”
I hope to be interviewing Mike Calvin on tape later this month. He was the ghost-writer for the autobiography of Gareth Thomas. I heartily recommend you read ‘Proud.’ Like me, you don’t have to be a rugby fan to enjoy reading the book. It is revelatory.
I’m not sure if I will live to see the day when a professional footballer playing the game in England declares himself to be homosexual. In 2014 it is ridiculous that they feel the need to hide their sexuality from their colleagues, manager and the world at large.
So many attitudes within the game have improved for the better in recent years. It’s a sad indictment of the times we live in that fear ensures a few footballers must continue living a lie.