A footballer came out of the closet last weekend. Anton Hysén, as you will likely have read over the last few days, gave an interview with the Swedish football magazine Offside in which he confirmed his sexuality. Hysen plays for Utsiktens BK in the fourth tier of the Swedish league system (which, in a manner similarly confusing to that in England, is called Division Two) and, if this were any other matter, the biggest aspect of any story concerning Anton Hysén would be that his father is Glenn Hysén, the former Liverpool defender and captain of Sweden (who, for the record, has already expressed his support for his son publically). This, however, is not any ordinary story, for football at least.
Hysén’s interview was given with the boldness and assurance of a young man on top of his game. At twenty years of age, he is frank and unapologetic about his sexuality (the question, “And why should he be?” is, of course, a rhetorical one) and his bafflement at the weird, insular world of which he is a part – “It’s so weird when you think about it. It’s so fucked up, the whole thing. Where the hell is everyone else?” – is the voice of someone that simply cannot see how the outside world has been unable to encroach into the world of which he is part. For Anton Hysén, it is the weird, insular world of football that is barmy, not him. Indeed, his incomprehension with this world reveals something of a truth within the game that has been swept under the carpet for far too long.
His comments don’t necessarily mean, however, that we should hold clubs or players entirely responsible for this state of affairs. Last weekend, The Guardian’s Secret Footballer told a truth that is rather uncomfortable for a good number of us, the supporters. The problem, though, doesn’t lie with that amorphous concept that we choose to call “football”. Within football, there are different groups, all containing good and bad people and, if The Secret Footballer is to be believed, the locker room mentality perhaps isn’t the major issue that we may assume that it to be. We can all point fingers at the likes of Sepp Blatter, whose flippant comments on the subject and subsequent back-tracking on them are well known, but his generation are dinosaurs. They’ll be extinct within a decade or so. For players, according to this player, a footballer is a footballer and that is what matters the most.
For The Secret Footballer, at least a part of the problem is us. Footballers, he asserts, are out of their comfort zone when they are faced with supporters and, for every single supporter that genuinely couldn’t give a tu’penny damn about their sexual orientation and wouldn’t consider mentioning it, there are probably two that would and ten that might not even believe what they’re saying but will use it to try and get a rise from a player should they get the opportunity. The FA’s Kick Homophobia Out Of Football video had to be quietly put on ice after it was confirmed that no-one could be found – no player, no manager – to be the public face of it. We can only speculate as to why that would be but, no matter how tempting it may seem, the reflex answer of, “because they’re all homophobes” feels too simplistic in itself as an explanation and a secondary potential reason – that those asked may have been concerned about the amount of abuse that they would have received for fronting said campaign from supporters, or a section of supporters – may make for somewhat uncomfortable reading for us, the fans.
As it turned out, the Kick Homophobia Out Of Football campaign pleased very few people. Anybody that has regularly attended matches for any period of time will be familiar with the character in the video, veins bulging in his neck, hurling abuse at somebody or other, and for many this video, perhaps, may have been a little close to a truth (and it is important to distinguish between “a” truth and “the” truth) of what the experience of homophobia at a football match may be like. On the other hand, however, the video was also criticised for not using positive imagery. Why, one may reasonably wonder, did the FA – or the advertising agency working on their behalf – not find a positive image homosexuality to push against the negative stereotypes that we have been up against for so long? For all of the criticism, though (much of which was valid), to interpret this video as being anything other than the FA taking (or at least wishing to be seen to be taking) a hard line against homophobia in football would surely be somewhat foolish.
Perhaps the crux of the matter, in the case of Anton Hysén, is the story itself. If a fourth division player from Sweden coming out can create the media frenzy that it has (and, yes, we are aware of the implicit irony in saying this here), what would it be like were a Premier League player to take the same route? It’s very easy for those of us for whom coming out is something that other people do to make pronouncements on the subject. For the player having to make that decision, it is a different, more complex matter. Hysén deserves all the luck in the world for an act of bravery that precious few others in the game have taken in modern times. His decision to speak up may make it a little easier for any player who wishes to come out but currently feels unable to do so. Hopefully, he will now be left to get on with building a playing career to match this very singular achievement.
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