Coronation Street is doing more for homophobia in football than actual footballers

Coronation Street

LGBT+ rights campaigners have praised Coronation Street for a storyline following a young, gay footballer who is outed online.

The character of rising football star James Bailey, played by Nathan Graham, was introduced to the soap opera last summer.

His storyline sees him balancing his football career with his sexuality, before he publicly is outed on social media.

While there are several high-profile female players, only one footballer has ever come out while playing for the England’s professional men’s league.

Justin Fashanu confirmed his sexuality in 1990, but struggled to cope with the pressures of tabloid attention and a backlash from fans. He eventually took his own life in 1998.

In the absence of a gay, male footballer to speak to, Graham told the BBC that he prepared for the Coronation Street role by meeting with openly gay rugby league player Keegan Hirst.

Graham, who is not LGBT+, said: “I’ve learned it’s still a big issue. If it wasn’t an issue, then I’d like to think there would be some openly gay footballers out there in the world right now.

“The story team and the writers, they’ve got nothing to go from in that sense, because this situation hasn’t happened – at least for 30 years.”

He said he was “honoured and grateful” to share the story with millions of viewers, and added: “I think as long as it helps somebody that might be going through the struggle of telling their family or if they are a young footballer who watches the show.

“They might see it and think, ‘OK, you know, I can do this. Maybe I could be the first player to come out in this era.'”

Robbie de Santos, director of sport at LGBT+ rights charity Stonewall, told Reuters: “A story about a Black, gay footballer will probably challenge stereotypes that people have about people of colour and being LGBT.

“There are still many people in the sport community who just don’t think there are LGBT+ people in the stadiums with them or taking part in Sunday kickabouts with them.”

In 2019, an anonymous Twitter user amassed 50,000 followers, claiming to be an English Premier League footballer who intended to come out gay.

But the Twitter account was later deleted, after the user posted the message: “I thought I was strong enough. I’m not.”

Gareth Thomas, who was the first openly gay professional rugby union player, said that he had contacted the anonymous player to offer “support”. 

Thomas said: “He is a young kid who had an understanding of who he was but didn’t have an understanding of where he fitted in.”