Liam Davis may be semi-professional, and earns his football wage for Gainsborough Trinity, in the Skrill Conference North league, five divisions below the fabled Premiership – though that doesn’t diminish his story, especially since he is so unapologetically honest about his life. Robbie Rogers may be “football’s first gay superstar,” but Davis’ courage to face potentially jeering terraces and possible homophobia from fellow players on a weekly basis in Britain deserves the ‘superstar’ epithet more in my book.
What is even more astounding about Davis’ storyline is that his coming out in 2014 was totally unplanned, and so the media scrum had been totally unexpected. “I’d previously included [boyfriend] Neil [Lord] in personal Tweets,” he recalls. “And the local Grimsby paper did a piece on The Point: the reporter knew we were a couple, and that I played football. They had a story and didn’t realise. But I didn’t realise it was a story either, because of the level of football I play at.”
In early January last year, Liam had simply tweeted: “Big up Thomas Hitzlsperger for coming out! Wish he had done it whilst still playing, might mean more people do!” The former Premiership footballer and German international had come out early that month after retiring through injury, in another case of damage limitation. “It was good to see,” Liam recalls. “I already knew about [out Swedish footballer] Anton Hysén, and Robbie Rogers, though it’s upsetting that Robbie could only come out after he left the UK, which says a lot about the English game. I don’t think his dressing room would have been a problem, because I know about mine.”
The Lincolnshire Echo picked up on Liam’s tweet, and asked him for an interview. The evening after the story ran, the broadsheets had got in touch, “And the phones went crazy,” says Neil. Liam woke up the next day to a thousand new Twitter followers. “I’d understand if Liam was coming out to his teammates,” says Neil, “but they all knew, as did the manager.”
But no one – not local and national journalists nor Gainsborough employees – knew the extent of Liam’s full story, which begins in Waltham, a village outside Cleethorpes’ nearest neighbour Grimsby. “Football’s always been there,” he says. “I played for the school, but never took it dead serious. I got in a bad crowd when I was 10, they were 5 years older, into causing trouble. I got arrested a couple of times. But Grimsby Town’s youth team manager said I should curb my ways, so I did, and he signed me at 14.” Four years later, Grimsby Town let Liam go, and he signed for Armthorpe (North East Counties league, four below the Conference) before going up a division at Brigg Town then joining Gainsborough May 2013.
But enough footie: what about the sport of boys? Teenage Liam dated girls, “but I knew in my head that I liked both.” Clearly unafraid, he even told his parents. “But you tuck it away at that age, don’t you? I did do stuff, on nights out in Cleethorpes, yeah, chance meetings. When you’re drunk, you’re less inhibited.”
At 42, 17 years older than Liam, Neil has his own story; married young, twice, with two grown up kids, and a property empire that he built and then lost. “I was more interested in raising kids,” he says in response to his true sexuality. “I had my first at 17, the second at 18, I had a business, a wife, we were keeping up with the Joneses. I don’t think it’s sexuality anyway, it’s more the person you fall in love with.”
Neil thinks he didn’t consider sleeping with a man until six months before he and Liam met (they argue about who was cruising who) down a Cleethorpes side street. For nine months, Liam says he was Neil’s, “booty call. But I’d fallen head over heels, and I felt I deserved better. So I started seeing someone else.”
At which point, Neil – “wrapped up in rage,” according to Liam – bombarded him with emails, texts, calls… he even created a website that outed Liam if you stumbled across it. “Neil did everything he could to damage my new relationship. I thought, this is going to explode, and I’d rather be the one to tell friends and family first.”
And he took Neil back! “Well, it took a while, but he’d gone from confusion to rage to clarity, and he convinced me how much he’d changed, and how much I meant to him.”
Once Liam was out (without any family or friend backlash), “Neil was coming out too! He had to. I wasn’t going back to half a relationship.”
Words by MARTIN ASTON