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Britain's Gay Footballers

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Amal Fashanu Amal Fashanu | 14:45 UK time, Monday, 30 January 2012

"I could never have wished or prayed for a better brother or friend." Looking down at me, through heavily strained eyes, I watched my father, and ex premiership footballer, John Fashanu struggle to speak these words about my late uncle Justin.

It was the culmination of a deeply personal and draining journey for me, looking back at Justin's legacy as Britain's only ever openly gay professional footballer as part of the documentary Britain's Gay Footballers (tonight, 9pm).

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John and Justin were born and raised in the UK, living with foster parents for a significant period of their youth. John grew up with a speech problem and to him Justin wasn't just an older brother. He was also his confidante, best friend and role model.

Sadly, as their lives developed and they both became professional footballers, their relationship became strained. Most significantly in 1990, when Justin took the radical, but very courageous decision to "come out" openly in the press with his homosexuality.

Prior to this, Justin had been a genuine star. In 1981, at the age of 19, he was signed by the then-mighty Nottingham Forest FC, as the first "million pound" black footballer. His career didn't take off as it should have, but this never affected our relationship. To me he was an extraordinarily kind, loving and charismatic uncle. The day he tragically took his own life in 1998 will never leave me.

Amal Fashanu


Making a documentary about homophobia in football was always going to be deeply emotional for me. I hoped it would add fuel to a campaign my uncle never had a chance to ignite - for equality and acceptance within football, on both professional and grassroots levels.

When I began this journey, I had a very clear image of where this journey would lead. I imagined discovering the prejudices Justin was exposed to at the hands of colleagues, and expected to find a more progressive and accepting mentality in football today.

On the latter count, I was disappointed. Meeting a whole range of people, I learned how football has failed to keep pace with wider society. Football has changed since Justin's death, but frankly not enough. Gay footballers remain a taboo, and second to that taboo is a straight footballer being seen to support the idea of openly gay players. Despite approaching dozens of players for interviews, my producers and I were constantly rebuffed.

An interview with the FA showed that active steps are in the pipeline to try and eradicate homophobia, alongside other forms of discrimination. The FA is working with grassroots organizations like the Justin Campaign, which I'm involved in, to aid their efforts.

But this doesn't disguise how much more needs to be done to create the conditions for gay players to feel happy about coming out openly. It's the very least Justin's courageous legacy deserves. As one of his friends put it, "Justin Fashanu was a bright shining star - not a flawless star - but a star nonetheless."

Britain's Gay Footballers is on Monday 30th January at 9pm.

More information:

Have you, or someone you know, been affected by the issues raised in this programme? Click here for information and support.

Sports Charter For Action

The Justin Campaign


  • Comment number 1.

    WOW! What a compelling show. Congratulations Amal, you told your family's story with great dignity and fearlessly interviewed all participants to create a documentary with huge depth. I hope you make a follow up so that we can watch the progress that the FA make.

  • Comment number 2.

    Well done with tonight's program regarding Gay Footballers. I felt Amal's journey was honest and explored areas that not everyone is comfortable with. I did feel the FA used a "poster girl" ie black female to answer Amal's questions. But praise to Amal for facing difficult truths during the documentary. Thank you BBC3 and Amal.

  • Comment number 3.

    I found it difficult watching the programme without continually hearing words and phrases which meant the presenter herself was so out of touch with todays thinking.
    How can she comment that she was surprised to find out that a black female worked for the FA yet question why any footballer (at the end of the day a human being) does not want the world to know what happens in what after all is their own private life.
    Why did she not phone the chairman of the company I work for, which employs over 10,000 people in the UK and Europe how may of them were gay?? Not sensational enough I guess, all I ask is that Amal looks back on her own work and ask herself why football got such attention.
    From a Brighton and Hove Albion fan who again did not agree with her representation from the Leeds game. We sing to any away northern teams "We pay your benefits", would you like to make a documentary about that??

  • Comment number 4.

    I think its uttery disgusting that anyone including footballers are taunted for being gay, I was put though a harrowing experiance while being accused of being gay at work when young (17 - 18) as I liked fashion, looking differant and generally not following the croud and let me tell you it was utter hell.

    I am not gay at all but this opened up my mind to how groups of peope treat other because they are "differant" these "differant" people are what scare the average guy / girl and turn certain people homophobic as they want ot be seen by mates or family as hardnut !

    Get them on their own and I bet they say gay people don't bother them at all so long as a gay guy don't try and pull them - even then some might even find this attention flattering but say no sorry not gay.

    A person on his / her own is smart, a group of people are ignorant, dumb and wild.

    I give any gay footballer, rugby player and anyother prosessional sports person and any other gay / lesbians out there my utter respect.

    You should not be afraid to be who you are on or off pitch / ground and we as a society need to come into the 21st century and outlaw this homaphobic behaviour.

    I for one would like to see more openly gay / lesbian professional / spotrs stars come out and be warmly accepted for who they really are not have to hide.

    Respect to Anton Haysen !

    RIP - Justin Fashanu 1961 - 1998.

  • Comment number 5.

    Well done, I've really enjoyed this powerful documentary. I have to admit I was initially sceptical about the presenter's credentials, but she did a great job dealing with a sensitive subject. The insight into the damage suicide had on the family was compelling to watch and very well handled by someone so young. Looking forward to seeing more from Amal. Congratulations!

  • Comment number 6.

    Excellent documentary Amal.This is a programme that needed to be made and no better person to do that,than you. Thank you and the producers for shedding a much needed light unto this deeply pernicious taboo.And for me personally, as I had the joy and privilege of meeting you at the Apple store during your 121 mac training.A double celebration for me for.Things will change, and this programme will help. C.J.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    An exercise in stating the blinding obvious; it was more a documentation of Amal Fashanu's personal discovery rather than any insight in to one of the many corners of backward thinking in football. Worse still was the constant feeling that this was really a self indulgent vehicle for an amateurish attempt at a career in tv. I found her approach to the task frustratingly vacuous and facile. She repeatedly missed the opportunity to contribute anything to the issues faced.

    Intellectually shallow, it was frustrating that every time there was a sign that the program was about to really challenge an issue; it lazily slipped back into a docu-drama about Amal's personal journey. I feel sympathy for Amal over the issues she has confronted in this program. However, it's not what i watch a 'documentary' for. So....perfect fodder for BBC 3 then!!!

  • Comment number 9.

    Absolute waste of time, this self-serving waste of public money, I gave up watching and moaning about it when Joey Barton came on. In fact, having him as one of the few representatives from football says it all.
    My working life was 40 years as Cabin Crew with BOAC and British Airways - so homosexuality was always acceptable in my working life, but I am not gay.
    Surely if footballers, or anyone in their career, want to make this statement, and are not happy with how they're having to lead their lives, then they have the right to do so. But like all of us, you stand or fall by the decisions you make. Justin had that right, but it took him until the very end of his career to make the announcement, when his star wasn't shining brightly any more. He also, and I remember it well, announced that he'd slept with MPs and other celebrities. He was simply trying to make money for himself, and it is Justin's very actions that has caused this refusal by other footballers to stay in the closet. Look at how much Carl Lewis lost when a British athlete wore that famous T shirt - 'Is the World's 2nd Greatest Athlete Gay?'
    It doesn't matter what anyone says, nor how much law is made to force equality, it all comes down to money. Most males will not want to emulate 'gay' footballers, so they will not get the contracts from Nike, Adidas, etc, to wear and advertise their sportswear.
    Who gives a damn about gay footballers as long as your team wins? I certainly would never have bought football boots that 'may' indicate I'm gay when I was young, nor will the kids today.
    Mostly, self-indulgent clap-trap and lots of close up filming of Amal crying and missing her not-very-nice uncle. Her dad John, however, who I never use to like, went up in my estimation. Please BBC, no more of this rubbish. Footballers will come out when they choose to do so, when they know their fortune is amassed and safely in the bank. If they don't, it's because it's nothing to do with the rest of us.

  • Comment number 10.

    Was on BBC Radio Lincolnshire last week reviewing this programme. I queried why we had fifty two minutes of straight people talking about gay issues - and the balance provided by Matt Lucas. Oh, and a swedish gay player.

    Joey Barton`s key comment was about his gay uncle - that`s why he was comfortable appearing. Stonewall`s `Profiles of Prejudice` reserach showed that people wo know someone forma minoritygroup are less likey, as was Barton, to dislike that community.

    Once again the word `gay` is associated with suicide. What did a young teenage football enthusiast - concerned about his sexuality - get from this programme? Or was it just entertainment for the straights?

  • Comment number 11.

    Amal, i just wanted to congratulate you on presenting this documentary. It is thanks to people like you that society is slowly but gradually moving forward. Someone commented earlier that this is a waste of Taxpayers' money. This is the type of programme that should be on television as a means to educate the uneducated. I believe the FA could do much more than they are doing to diminish homophobia. I don't think it is the football players (majority) that a problem with homosexuality. In fact, in general society, most people are probably accepting. There is a stigma attached still to homosexuality and people do not want to be incorporated in that stigma, directly or indirectly. Once someone is brave enough to pave the way for coming out (and should be supported to an absolute maximum in doing so) then others will follow. I think people will be more surprised at how many gay footballers there is once they start coming out. The sooner people are educated on equality, the better society will be to live in for us all. Again, well done Amal and you have certainly honoured your uncle. It is just sad that society was not liberal when he came out. Justin is an absolute hero and helped to acquire rights for the generations to follow; only for people like him coming out, i would not be openly gay myself. For people like Justin, i am eternally grateful to him/them for allowing me the freedom to be openly gay.


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