Oxford City dismisses player for Gareth Thomas tweet

PinkNews logo on pink background with rainbow corners.

Oxford City FC said today it had released Lee Steele from his obligations to the club after the footballer posted a comment on Twitter about gay rugby star Gareth Thomas.

Steele, 38, was not seen at a match on Saturday after writing: “I wouldn’t fancy the bed next to Gareth Thomas #padlockeda**ehole”.

He was referring to Thomas’s appearance on the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother.

The comment about the openly-gay retired sportsman, made on Thursday, was subsequently removed.

Steele’s Twitter account has not been updated since.

The club said its officials had met to discuss the comment last night and posted a short statement on the club website this morning.

It said it had issued the following statement to the FA: “The Oxford City board have decided to release Lee Steele in view of his recent comment via social media which is considered seriously contrary to the ethos of the club.”

Mike Ford, the club’s manager, told the BBC sacking Steele was the hardest thing he had ever had to do in his career, but that he had to “pay for his error of judgement”.

He added that Steele’s comment, while homophobic in itself “doesn’t necessarily mean he’s homophobic”.

From 2000 to 2002, Steele played for Brighton and Hove Albion FC, a club whose supporters have often been faced with homophobic chants from rivals.

The former rugby player Ben Cohen, of the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation which exists to combat bullying, tweeted that it was “Good to see Oxford City standing up against homophobia”.

Alan Duffy, Director of Communications for The Justin Campaign said: “While it is never pleasing to see someone lose a position in a club or company, we fully applaud the club’s decision to terminate the player’s contract.

“For far too long homophobic comments like the ones Steele made have been defended using the erroneous argument that such remarks as simply harmless “banter”. However, we no longer accept racist “banter”, and likewise, we must never accept homophobic “banter”.

“These kind of comments, in which being gay or bi-sexual is used as joke, have immense power in dissuading members of the LGBT community from either playing or watching football.

“Oxford City’s brave decision shows us that things are, slowly, moving in the right direction and that football is starting to take homophobia, biphobia and transphobia seriously.”

This series of Celebrity Big Brother will finish on 27 January. Gareth Thomas, known to many as Alfie, escaped the first round of nominations for eviction, and it is not known when he will leave the programme.

Oxford City FC plays in the Southern Football League Premier Division.