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Modern football seems to exist in a parallel universe to the rest of the world in some respects. Financial mismanagement by clubs ends in the customers (or, as they used to be called, “supporters”) being punished rather than those that mismanaged in the first place. Those same clubs pursue abstracts, such as league points and the transitory glory of winning trophies, to the exclusion of everything else including, more often than not moral considerations. Moreover, attitudes that would be considered absolute anathema in any other area of life continue to be tolerated.
Football and homophobia are old friends. It’s an uncomfortable truth that gets cast aside in the circus that is the modern game, but it is there all the same and its most visible representation is in the number of openly gay players there are in modern, professional English football: none. English isn’t a remote, isolated case in this respect, of course, but on Europe two opposing views on the issue have raised their heads over the last few days: one of them ugly and regressive, the other enlightened. The comments of Vlatko Markovic, the president of the Croatian FA, were surprising primarily because he seems to have made them for no reason.In an interview with Croation Times, he stated:
While I’m a president of the Croatian Football Federation, there will be no homosexuals playing in the national team. Luckily, only normal people play football.
These are vile comments, of course, and perhaps what is so surprising about them is that they were made so publically. Anybody reading the interview in England whilst considering how “typical” this sort of attitude may be in the Balkans, however, would be well advised to consider that there are probably a good number of people within our game that hold exactly the same attitudes as Markovic but keep their mouths shut on the subject. Those blithely assuming that English football is somehow more progressive than elsewhere on the basis of Markovic’s comments may wish to consider this hypothetical: how many Premier League managers could you imagine not involving the sexuality of an openly gay footballer either in training ground “banter” or in a “heat of the moment” shouting session after a heavy defeat?
We, the supporters, have a role that we can play in continuing to marginalise such viewpoints. One of the more tired excuses that gets rolled out by many in the media and within the game itself is that no professional player will come out as gay on account of the amount of abuse that they would get from the terraces. On the one hand, we all know that all players come in for abuse throughout the course of every match. How apocalyptically bad would the abuse that an openly gay player would get? And, if this eventuality was to play out, why shouldn’t work to the assumption that such behaviour would be acted upon in the strongest possible terms by clubs themselves and, where possible, the police? On the other, though, we all also know that such viewpoints remain widely-held even though homophobia is still treated with the same seriousness as racism by many in the game, including supporters.
The truth of the matter is that it would probably not be half as bad as someone like Max Clifford, who said of a young player coming out, that, “If he did, it would effectively be his career over”, might think that it is. We are, however, primarily kidding ourselves if we try to propose the argument that there is no casual homophobia in football or that there wouldn’t be at least some supporters that would “up their game” if there was an openly gay player in the opposition team to theirs. The responsibility lies with us all to make homophobia at matches as much of a taboo as racism now is.
If we can manage this, the feeling that such attitudes will not be tolerated in the stands may even filter down to the clubs themselves. At that point, players such Sheffield Wednesday’s Darren Purse will not have to temper their own comments against homophobia in football with the caveat that, “I’d have to think very carefully before I advised a young footballer to come out”. More positive still are the comments made this week by Bayern Munich’s Mario Gomez on the subject this week. Gomez has views are refreshing, to say the least:
They would play as if they had been liberated. Being gay should no longer be a taboo topic. We’ve got a gay vice-chancellor; the Berlin mayor is gay. So professional footballers should own up to their preference.
It may seem self-evident to us that homophobia should not and must not be tolerated in football, but the very existence of The Justin Campaign and Red Card Homophobia prove that there is still a lot of ground to be covered. Not everyone would necessarily agree that professional players should “have” to come out of they don’t wish to, but we all have a role to play in creating an atmosphere in which a player would feel comfortable in doing so, should he wish to. The criticism meted out in the direction of Vlatko Markovic has been encouraging, but there is still a lot of work to be done and we can all play a part in making comments like these a thing of the past.
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
Do ask, don’t tell.
I’m not interested in footballers’ (or other professions’) disgusting, if harmless, perversions.
No need for anybody to “own up to their preferences”. Please don’t flaunt your filthy ways, keep them to yourself, thank you very much.
Borys, just in case your message was seriously meant (and I find it hard to believe that anyone in this day and age could hold such views), I’d like to refer you to the Darren Purse interview in the link above.
“I’ve thought about it,” Purse says, “and there can’t be anything worse than living a lie your whole life.”
Good article. I’d hope that in 20 years’ time that everyone in football shares Mario Gomez’s view. And Borys, good on you for tracking down an article about homosexuality and managing to read it all the way through – we know it must have been upsetting for you 😉 . The reason I’d disagree with you is that there are thousands of young gay men and women growing up who worry whether they’ll be accepted by their friends, their family, and the world around them. The more that homosexuality can be seen as something mundane and ordinary (rather than something disgusting that must be hidden), the less persecuted these young people will feel. It’d be great if one day football could help to provide role models for these young people to look up to, in the same way it provides role models for black youngsters to look up to.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is U.S. army rule.
I don’t give a shit about other person sexual orientation, but if somebody is openly gay then I can’t understand why it is legally for me call him “fat bastard”, but illegal if his sexuality is mentioned ?! It’s just doublestandard and very near to doublespeak (“1984″).
I’m sure you can understand, if you really try.
If it’s of interest, by the way, no leading professional chessplayer has ever come out. Just as there must be gay footballers, there must surely be gay grandmasters: but if there are, they’re not saying. It’s not just football where people are afraid of the reaction.
dunduks – possibly because it is possible for someone who is ‘fat’ to change their physique but it is not possible for someone who is gay to change their sexuality. Possibly because you don’t hear much about ‘fat bashing’ attacks but you do hear about ‘gay bashing’ assaults.
It’s really not hard to understand if you make an effort
Dunduks – I don’t particularly want to encourage you to call anyone a fat bastard either, but there are good reasons why we’ve seen fit to give certain sections of society particular legal protection view of the social and context and histories of oppression and / or persecution that have amounted (and continue to amount) to far worse than just a bit of name-calling.
For the most part I don’t think it’s particularly difficult to see why that is or where such differences might apply. But some people seem to have more trouble with it (I was disappointed last week with the number of St Johnstone fans who didn’t seem to understand why there might be anything amiss with subjecting a Korean player to barking noises).
If in doubt, and if anyone really can’t make the judgement as to what taunts cross the line into unacceptability, then it’s safest just not to shout abuse at anyone. It has the added incidental bonus of making you a nicer person too.
[…] Homophobia in Football: Two Visions of the Future – Typically excellent stuff from Twohundredpercent […]
“it is possible for someone who is ‘fat’ to change their physique” is very optimistic assumption and I’m sure gay bashing assaults are insignificant volume if compare to all friday night assaults.
With assault it can’t be diifferenced if I’m black, white, gay, straight, fat, bald or simply non-drinking and non-smoking stranger.
I can understand your argumentation, but I didn’t think that histories of oppression and/or persecution that have amounted is valid argument for specific status nowadays.
I lived first 18 years in the USSR and I had bad experience with KGB/Communist party informants at school because I spoke what really happened in 1940 (I was 11 years old, I was lucky and it was only warning) and I’m absolutely certain that everybody has rights to express any view – homophobic, racist, Nazi, Commi etc. included. Of course, it’s stupid to have mass racist attack on opponent players if you are Arsenal or Chelsea etc. fan, but my faith is that it’s stupid not illegal.
I’m also lucky that my English is too bad for taunts and I’m going mostly to lower league games where aren’t many Latvian or Russian speaking players. Only time when I was ready for abuse (first row at Stoke against Spurs in autumn 2008) Pavlyuchenko played on wrong wing.
[…] sexual ambivalence associated with the town’s population? Oh yes. Even in this week of several articles about homophobia in football? You bet your sweet arse. Will there be a tannoy announcement […]
Just saw this. Great article. I’m glad more and more people are talking about this subject.
Thank you for the mention of Red Card Homophobia.