IS football really a comfortable, all-inclusive environment for LGBT fans, players and officials?
It is great to see the Football League and its 72 clubs again backing Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign.
PA:Empics Sport5 The Football League and its 72 clubs backing Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign
Captains wore rainbow armbands this weekend and will do so up until next weekend, while corner flags have been rainbow coloured and a series of adverts and videos have been released.
Delia Smith is even baking special cakes that will be handed out to Norwich fans on Saturday ahead of their game with Rotherham — and sent me one too.
But will it make a REAL difference? The fact remains there is not a single professional footballer currently playing in the UK who feels comfortable enough to be openly gay.
That is despite — in the EFL for instance — there being 2,436 registered players. That is a huge stain on football’s claim that it is all-inclusive.
Peter Powell Limited5 Charlie Mulgrew believes openly gay players would be supported
Is football a safe space for openly gay players?
CHARLIE MULGREW (Blackburn captain)
YES. Times have changed. A gay footballer would definitely be supported by his team-mates.
If someone can be open about their sexuality in society then there is no reason why someone cannot in football.
The sport has evolved a lot — from the days when players went down to the pub after training to the professionalism of today.
It’s the same on this subject too. Football would be accepting.
IAN HENDERSON (Rochdale captain)
YES. They will be accepted very quickly. Yes, that person will endure stick from rival fans. And there will be a massive media cauldron to start with but then others will follow.
It’s going to take someone who is incredibly resilient psychologically and 100 per cent comfortable in themselves to come out to share it with the great football audience.
MICKEY DEMETRIOU (Newport captain)
YES. The football family will back and support any player who is open about his sexuality.
It is going to take a bit of time for players to feel comfortable.
At Newport it doesn’t matter if someone is gay or not — we’d be comfortable with it in our changing room.
It is incredible Justin Fashanu remains the only player in this country to have ever come out while still playing back in 1990.
He tragically hanged himself eight years later.
Society’s attitude towards the LGBT community has progressed unrecognisably since his death 20 years ago.
Most major sports have openly LGBT players, including women’s football. But the men’s game seems stuck in the dark ages.
Paul Currie5 Ian Henderson also reckons openly gay players would be backed
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5 Mickey Demetriou believes any openly gay star would be given support
One of the biggest fears facing a male footballer would be coming out alone, because the focus on that individual could prove unbearable.
As Blackburn skipper Charlie Mulgrew told me: “You can imagine telling your parents would be a big enough thing to do.
“But to then come out in football, with your name splashed all over the media, I can understand why that’s a massive decision to make.
“It’s effectively coming out to a nation. When someone does, it’s important he’s treated right.
“If one of my team-mates came out, knowing the Blackburn changing room, everyone would support him.
“The last thing anyone wants is for someone to not feel comfortable being who they are, or for the person to become depressed and suffer mental health issues.
“I genuinely believe times have changed and most dressing rooms would be the same.”
Getty5 Stars wore rainbow laces this weekend as they backed a good cause
What would be sensible is if an organisation like the PFA — in association with the EFL, Premier League and FA — co-ordinated a number of LGBT footballers coming out proudly and comfortably together, to take the focus off one individual.
Mulgrew added: “Once we see one, two or three come out, you’ll see a whole number within no time at all — and like in society it will become normal.”
That is much needed if football can really claim to be all-inclusive because as things stand I do not think it is.
Gay footballers clearly have genuine fears of how the game, and fans, would respond.
Football makes the right noises by supporting Rainbow Laces and the EFL has seen a big rise in the number of LGBT fans groups.
In 2015, there were just four, today there are 42.
But to encourage players to not be fearful of being open about their sexuality, it needs to go even further than rainbow flags once a year.