GAY footballers? Who’d want to tackle that taboo, eh?
I have never shared a dressing room with an openly homosexual team-mate but a conversation earlier this week with Gregg Carrol was an eye opener.
Having kept his sexuality secret for decades as a player and boss with a host of Highland League clubs, he has walked away from the game by quitting as manager of Huntly.
He’s the only gay man I know in football or, more accurately, the only one I’m aware of.
There’s a bit of history to this tale. Having first met Gregg a few years ago when he was boss of Buckie Thistle, he didn’t suffer fools gladly. His team had played Stenhousemuir in a Scottish Cup tie but an incident where one his players appeared to punch a team-mate created a talking point for the reporters.
Not knowing Gregg from Adam, I asked what action he would be taking and he stared me down and said: ‘I’ll be dealing with it but it’s got **** all to do with you.”
Gregg Carrol (middle) with former Buckie Thistle goalkeeper Kevin Small (left) and Andy Low (right).Beating a hasty retreat, it’s clear he wasn’t a man to mess with but it also highlighted a desire to protect his players.
Our paths crossed again shortly after during an assignment to cover Buckie once more. Again it was his popularity, passion for the game and honest approach which struck me.
This week we spoke about “living a lie” over his sexuality and the decision to come out and confront the issues in his life.
He also told me about the support he’s had from within the game. To a man, he’s had nothing but compassion and backing from the players, coaches and committee men he’s encountered over his football career.
Gregg’s comments were an endorsement of the way the game can work for good within its own highly complex approach to often unspoken social realities.
Times have changed and, hands up, the caveman in me has also been replaced by someone who believes sport must be more honest and open about such matters.
It’s a myth to suggest a footballer should fear a backlash by coming out in the modern game. The only intolerance I witnessed at Dundee United, Clyde or Dumbarton was over my finishing.
The stigma doesn’t exist. In fact, coming out the closet these days could open a treasure chest of riches for a footballer. Chat shows, magazine features and instant celebrity status as well as all of the endorsements which would come with being a poster boy for the gay community’s battle for equality.
The attitudes of the past, Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang culture, have softened. The macho man has given way to more considerate and cosmopolitan player.
In fact, for any middle of the road footballers, coming out the closet could be considered a decent career move.
That’s not to trivialise the matter, it’s only to tell the truth.
There might have been a couple of guys I played with who were too scared to come out of the closet.
But you don’t have to look too far to see that attitudes towards gay athletes have been altered by campaigns against homophobia in football in recent times.
Carrol won’t be alone in hiding his sexuality within football but the game is ready to shatter that taboo