Britain's Gay Footballers
"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).
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.
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.
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