Gordon Parks: Gay footballers – the last taboo or football's greatest myth?

Gregg Carrol took charge of Buckie Thistle in the Scottish Cup against Brechin in 2011.

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Times have changed and, hands up, the caveman in me has also been replaced by someone who believes sport must be more honest and open about such matters.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

Openly gay footballers would get respect – Richard Scudamore

BBC News Logo



Gay footballers would be treated with respect if they choose to publicly reveal their sexuality, says Premier

Richard Scudamore

League boss Richard Scudamore.

“The environment would be entirely suitable for them to come out,” Scudamore told BBC Newsnight.

There have been no openly gay male footballers in England since former Norwich striker Justin Fashanu in 1990.

The Daily Mirror  has reported that two top-flight players are set to come out with support from their clubs.

“It would be welcomed and I think there would be a tolerance to it. I think the time would be right to do that,” Scudamore added.

Former England women’s captain Casey Stoney was the first active footballer to come out in England since Fashanu in February 2014.

Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger publicly revealed his homosexuality in 2014, after his retirement, and Scudamore is “absolutely sure” there are gay players in England’s top flight.

“It would be very strange if there wasn’t,” the Premier League chief executive said.

In other sports, high-profile athletes have openly spoken about their sexuality, with Olympic diver Tom Daley revealing in December 2013 he was in a relationship with a man.

British race walker Tom Bosworth became the first Team GB athlete to come out as gay, while former British and Irish Lions captain Gareth Thomas, who played rugby for Wales in both codes, and rugby league player Keegan Hirst have also come out.

Examples in football are less common. In 1990, former England Under-21 international Fashanu was the first professional footballer in Britain to come out as gay. He retired from football in 1997 and took his own life a year later, aged 37.

Swedish footballer Anton Hysen, son of former Liverpool defender Glenn Hysen, announced his sexuality in an interview with a Swedish football magazine in 2011.

In February 2013, former United States and Leeds United winger Robbie Rogers said he was gay in a post on his website.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said last year a gay Premier League footballer may never be able to reveal his sexuality during his playing career because of the intense scrutiny he would be under.

And retired basketball star John Amaechi, the first NBA player to come out, has called football “toxic” for gay people and minorities.

Thomas Hitzlsperger discusses reports of two gay Premier League players considering coming out


Thomas Hitzlsperger

Amid reports that two Premier League footballers are considering revealing they are homosexual, Thomas Hitzlsperger, arguably the most high profile former player to have come out as gay, has spoken about the difficulties they may face.

Reports have been circulating that two high-profile players playing in England’s top-flight of football are close to revealing their sexual orientation.

How any such announcement will be received is uncertain, with only a handful of footballers revealing their sexuality and in nearly all cases after their retirement from the game. There is currently just one openly gay professional or semi-professional footballer in Great Britain, non-league player Liam Davis.

Former Aston Villa player Hitzlsperger came out last year andspeaking exclusively to admitted there could be unknown repercussions for any players who follow his decision.

“You have to think of the players first. If they can handle it and if it will improve their lives that’s great,” said Hitzlsperger, who played 52 games for Germany.

“You just hope there is no change in how they look at the game and no disruption to the career they wanted.

“You also have to think of who you can support and help by coming out. A lot of people thanked me for doing so and said I inspired them to come out. That’s a big deal.”

Thomas Hitzlsperger during a spell at West Ham

Hitzlsperger, who in his interview with spoke about the appointment of Remi Garde at Aston Villa, revealed being openly gay comes with difficulties but he is happy with his decision to be open.

“It’s not just in football, but in society; you are part of a minority, so I don’t think it will ever be a non-issue. But I’m very comfortable in my own skin and I’m comfortable going to games and meeting fans who know I’ve come out. I’m really delighted in how it is going. My life has changed, of course, but for the better.”


Read the full and frank interview with Hitzlsperger here.

English footballers and fans will end the stigma around gay players themselves

The Guardian LogoTuesday 27 October 2015







The news that two Premier League players may come out is no longer shocking. But the response they receive will be the true test of football’s tolerance

Robbie Rogers

The LA Galaxy player Robbie Rogers came out in 2013 after leaving Leeds United. Photograph: Danny Moloshok/Reuters


[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ast weekend, news broke that two Premier League players may be ready to come out. The story has once again teased us with the prospect that English football could finally be ready to join the 21st century. Yet it’s the way in which the news was covered – a shift from tabloid exposé to Twitter debate – that offers real signs of encouragement.

The Mirror’s headline was designed to shock, yet fell flat; pricked hours later by a breezy tweet from Manchester United’s Luke Shaw denying his involvement. With its peace sign and smily face it was hardly the work of the Westboro Baptist Church, yet some were quick to condemn his simple denial as evidence of entrenched homophobia in players.

Quite the opposite. More likely it’s the long-term lack of faith in both players and fans – surely the two most important groups involved – by governing bodies, pressure groups and the media that has added to the swirling culture of fear within the game. Compare Shaw’s tweet to the FA’s bizarre anti-homophobia filmjust five years ago – they’re worlds apart – mainly because this generation of players simply don’t have the same fear factor when it comes to sexuality. All the campaign films and rainbow laces in the world are no substitute for the carefree potency of youth with 140 characters to spare.

Neither are they a match for the power of player solidarity and self-policing by fans. In years gone by this may have meant a cheeky message under a club shirt in regard to the former, and a stern talking-to on the terraces in the case of the latter. The arrival of Twitter however, amplifies a positive perspective more than ever. Put it this way – if a player came out tomorrow, could you seriously see anything but a flood of supportive tweets from fellow footballers and fans?

Take a look at the comments section under any recent story about footballers coming out. Aside from the odd flash of bigotry one theme keeps returning – boredom. It’s the story that won’t go away, yet the reaction of football fans is not one of hostility, but weariness. Replies such as “Who cares?” and “It’s 2015” suggest a growing anger not directed at the players in question but the debate itself.

Social networking has – as traditional gay bars and nightclubs continue to close – provided a more subtle and nuanced platform for sexuality full stop. Rugby player Sam Stanley quietly featured his boyfriend in a series of Instagram photos before coming out, thus diffusing any drama from the situation. There’s no reason for today’s footballers to suffer the same clunky red-top outings endured by early 2000s boy-band members (often given little choice or notice) when a tweeted pic of a loved one can filter out slowly across social media making the same point. A shift from lurid to lovely.

That’s not to say conditions are perfect. While social media may offer a newfound subtlety and control to the coming-out process, it brings with it a global audience. Perhaps this, more than any other reason, may explain why English football has teetered on the brink for the past 10 years. The old enemy – the English press – was at least a familiar one. The worldwide web offers less cosy adversaries.

Yet if English players do choose to step out on to that global stage they won’t be alone. They’ll be joined by the US’s Robbie Rogers, Sweden’s Anton Hysén and Germany’s Thomas Hitzlsperger (an average age of 28 between them) as well as countless other lower-league players to have come out in the last five years and prospered.

It might be naive to suggest that as with the closeted teenager (and there are definite parallels here for football) the only thing to fear is fear itself, yet those who suggest this new generation of players and fans can’t deal with their colleagues and heroes’ sexuality could perhaps use a reminder.


Footballers are wary of coming out, says NI boss

Belfast Telegraph logoBy Steven Beacom



Nuchael ONeill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill

Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has revealed his views on why gay footballers in Britain do not come out, suggesting that there would be a fear amongst players of an ‘unforgiving’ reaction from rival supporters.

O’Neill added that he would be ‘very sensitive’ to the situation if one of his players told him he was gay.

Not his usual subject matter, the former Shamrock Rovers boss was talking about the issue as part of a sports panel on Radio Five Live yesterday.

The debate cropped up following the recent decision of Batley Bulldogs captain Keegan Hirst to announce that he was gay, becoming the first British rugby league player to do so.

Asked if such a revelation would happen soon in British football, O’Neill said: “I think we are still a bit away to be honest.

“I think the main thing in football for players isn’t their team-mates or the environment of the dressing room, I think it is the possibly the environment of the stadium which I still think for a footballer coming out would be pretty unforgiving.

“I don’t think opposition fans are going to be particularly sympathetic to that, particularly if it is someone very high profile.

“It is quite sad that we are talking about this, but footballers would be a lot more wary and I don’t see that changing in the short term.

“As a manager if a player came to me I would have to be very sensitive to how he wanted to go forward with it.”

Yes, England has openly gay footballers. And it's totally irrelevant



England is obsessed with footballers WAGs and now the Women’s World Cup has sparked an interest in HABs (yep, that’s husbands and boyfriends). But, says Radhika Sanghani, it’s not so easy to slap labels on the women’s game

Casey Stoney and Megan Harris

England footballer Casey Stoney with her partner Megan Harris Photo: Rex

It’s hard to ignore England’s obsession with WAGs. Every time the World Cup rolls around, the media and the public can’t get enough of our footballers’ wives and girlfriends, with their glamorous outfits, manicured talons and coiffed manes.

WAG-mania seemed to start with the TV series Footballers Wives (RIP). But it really went mainstream during the 2006 World Cup, and at every tournament since, WAG-watching has basically become a spectator sport.

So it’s no big surprise that this year, the Women’s World Cup has sparked a similar interest in the England team’s HABs (yep, that’s husbands and boyfriends).

HABs have already made the headlines, and there’s even a Twitter account dedicated to “the husbands, boyfriends and partners of female athletes.”

Unsurprisingly it’s called @Sports_HABS and for the next month, it has dedicated itself to tweeting about the Women’s World Cup and the best HABs around.

There’s just one tiny little thing – not all of England’s women team have HABs. Some of them are single, and some of them have girlfriends or wives.

This is something that football has not traditionally been open to – in the men’s game anyway. There are hardly any openly gay male footballers at international level, and it was only last year that a Premier League footballer came out as gay for the first time.

Thomas Hitzlsperger, a German former West Ham United player, revealed his sexuality to “move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards.”

Before him, the most high profile footballer to come out in Britain was Justin Fashanu, who suffered years of homophobic abuse before he took his own life in 1998, at the age of 37.

Thomas Hitzlsperger came out last year (Getty images)

The Women’s World Cup is now throwing a spotlight on just how backwards men’s football can be when it comes to homosexuality.

Outsports estimates there are 17 women involved in this year’s tournament, who are either gay or bisexual – compared to the handful in the Men’s World Cup.

England has two openly gay players, Lianne Sanderson and former captain, Casey Stoney, 33, who came out last year and revealed she was in a relationship with former team-mate Megan Harris (the couple now have twins together).

Lianne Sanderson is openly gay (Getty Images)

Homosexuality is not taboo in the women’s game. It is, quite rightly, seen as entirely irrelevant to the football they play.

Many of women who have come out have spoken about how “positive” the experience has been for them.

It’s a far cry to the men’s game. Only last year Roy Hodgson revealed he had no idea what LGBT stood for (it’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans), and Arsene Wenger said: “[Tackling homophobia] is a [value] here maybe we are a bit behind and we have to work on it, of course.”

There is a lot that needs to change in the men’s game before players can come out as confidently as their female counterparts; from managerial attitudes to acceptance from fans.

But terms such as WAG don’t help either.

They might be three seemingly harmless letters, but I’d argue it’s unconscious homophobia. What’s worse, I’ve been using it for years without a second thought.

But the absurdity of the HABs label in the context of the Women’s World Cup has proved just how outdated these terms – and our views – really are. Not only are we ignoring the real stars of the game by focusing on their partners, we’re making assumptions that aren’t just blind but offensive.

It’s why this World Cup, I’m steering clear of all three-letter acronyms. Who’s with me?