Lee Steele apologises for ‘tongue-in-cheek’ Gareth Thomas tweet

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Sacked footballer Lee Steele has apologised for his comment about gay rugby star Gareth Thomas in a statement issued by his new club, Nantwich Town FC, but has been charged by the FA for bringing the game into disrepute.

Steele, 38, was let go by Oxford City after writing on Twitter: “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 earlier this month, was subsequently removed and as of today, Steele’s Twitter account appears to have been removed.

Jimmy Quinn, manager of his new club Nantwich Town FC said: “I am pleased to have been able to bring Lee into the squad. He is an experienced proven striker that holds the ball up and can make a difference to us and hopefully we will be in a position to strengthen the squad further over the next couple of weeks.”

A statement said the comment was made “tongue in cheek at the time and Lee would like to apologise for this and any offence that this has caused and would also like to stress that he is not homophobic in any way.”

Last week, his former club announced: “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 Steele had to “pay for his error of judgement”, adding it did not mean he was necessarily homophobic.

Now, the Oxford Times reports that he has been charged with bringing the game into disrepute by the Football Association, and has until 23 January to answer the charge.

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.

Alan Duffy, Director of Communications for The Justin Campaign said last week: “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.”

The FA also announced today that Leicester City’s Michael Ball has been charged with improper conduct in relation to comments made on Twitter on 29 November 2011.

The charge in that case is that Ball acted in a way which was “improper and/or brought the game into disrepute”. It is alleged that the breach, believed to relate to a comment about gay Coronation Street actor Antony Cotton, included a reference to sexual orientation.