With 1.5 million people (3.1%) in the UK reporting being gay, lesbian, bisexual or other sexual orientations in the 2021 census, those identifying as LBGTQ+ have been a growing community in the national population. These statistics should apply to all areas of life and professions. However, an obvious outlier is the difference between ‘out’ female and male football players.
History of ‘gay’ football players:
Unless it is to perpetuate the idea that footballers are the highest form of masculinity, the idea of sexuality is actively avoided in the world of professional football. It is a taboo area that is rarely brought up. There have only been a handful of openly gay professional players in 135 years. In 1990, Nottingham forest player, Justin Fashanu came out in an interview and subsequently faced a multitude of backlash.
Recently, Blackpool player, Jake Daniels, came out as gay. His reception was by no means as extremely negative as Justin Fashanu, with his club, teammates and many of those on social media supporting him. However, his announcement did spark a wider conversation about the lack of open gay players in the sport overall. Daniels is alone as the only active professional player in the Championship league despite the 600 players in the league total. It is not only a statistical anomaly for there to be only one gay active player, but it is hard to believe.
LBGTQ+ representation in women’s football
In contrast, the women’s premier leagues is home to 61 openly gay players. Euro Golden Boot winner, Beth Mead, is vocal about their sexuality and keen to help change the culture of shame that surrounds being gay in sports. Mead told Sky Sports,
“To me, I've tried to make it the normal rather than make it a statement.”
Homophobia still exists within the women’s sport. However, not on a comparable level to the men’s sport. Homophobic rhetoric is common in the fan chants in the stands in men’s football whereas it is practically non-existent in women’s football. More than 365 million people tuned in to watch the women’s team win the 2022 Euros with the 7 gay England players representing positive role models. The sexuality of the women’s players is both not a taboo topic but is actively celebrated.
How did this happen?
The histories of men’s and women’s football differ dramatically and are separated in a professional setting by almost 100 years. One reason for the accepting nature of the women’s sport may lie in the fact that is rose in popularity in the late 90s and early 2000 – a time when LGBTQ+ identities were becoming more accepting. Whereas men’s professional football was solidified and engrained in the early 1900s at a time when minds were less open.
Men’s football still has a long way to go to make the culture more inclusive and accepting. And they should look to women’s football for support and inspiration.