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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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