Gay footballers advised against coming out as it’s not in their ‘financial interests’, agent claims

Man sitting on a football pitch crying

Former Premier League football manager Ian Holloway has said that while he would be “proud” if a gay player came out to him, football is without a doubt “homophobic”.

A new Channel 4 documentary, Football’s Coming Out, will explore why barriers still exist in the UK for LGBT+ football players.

Holloway, who during his career has managed Queen’s Park Rangers, Crystal Palace and Grimsby Town, joined high-profile voices from the world of football in discussing what stops Premier League players from coming out.

“Being brutally honest, yeah, I do believe football is homophobic,” he says in the film.

Justin Fashanu was Britain’s first, and only, active professional footballer to come out as gay in 1990.

Less than eight years later, after years of being hounded and harassed by the homophobic press, he died by suicide.

Thetford Town FC player and manager Matt Morton, Britain’s current highest ranked out gay footballer, says in the documentary: “There are 100 per cent gay men in elite football in this country. They just don’t feel comfortable yet to be themselves.”

Many of those featured in the documentary insisted that times have changed when it comes to LGBT+ acceptance in football.

Joleon Lescott, ex-professional Premier League player, said: “I think in years and generations past, it would have been a more uncomfortable situation for a player to come out.

“There were a lot more gay jokes and it was viewed in a more negative light. You can never say never, you just don’t know, but I think the perception of gay males has changed.

“I honestly believe the dressing room is where they would receive more support. Now, I would like to say players are more mature.”

Former Premier League manager Ian Holloway.

Former Premier League manager Ian Holloway. (Channel 4)

But others aren’t so sure, with former agent to Maradona, Jon Smith, suggesting it is “just not the right time” for a Premier League football player to come out as LGBT+.

He said: “Society is in a place where it is tired of being lectured and rampant in its responses, some of which are sizeably hurtful and abusive.

“It’s possibly just not the right time. That’s just me. Who am I to say? If a player has a desire to make his sexuality public, then let him do it. But just be prepared for the backlash.”

Smith also suggested that it has been commonplace over the years for agents to advise gay football players against coming out publicly.

“My job as an agent, our job as an agent, was to maximise my clients’ interests, his financial interests,” he added.

“Would an agent consider it to be a negative stance in a negotiation to admit his player was gay? Yes. Because there are not quite so many clubs in England but there are places around the world, certainly in Eastern Europe, and certainly in the Middle East, where it borders on criminal activity.”

Gay football players may be scared of backlash from fans as well as players

Patrick Bamford, a Premier League football player for Leeds United, suggested that part of the fear for LGBT+ footballers is the possibility of abuse from fans.

“If they are a footballer playing at a stadium, that’s probably what they are most worried about,” he said.

“They’ll be thinking, ‘Are these fans going to chant stuff?’ Which shouldn’t happen.

“The problem is, there are going to be a few people who are drunk at a game who might say stuff. It’s getting closer that these things are being eradicated from the game, but it’s still not quite there yet.”

Joleon Lescott added: “Social media can be used for so much good, but then on the flip side, how do we eradicate the abuse? It is our society that is the issue.

“We’ve got be realistic and be aware that individuals that are coming out, it’s going to be difficult for them as not everyone is going to react the way that you or I would or you would imagine and they have to be prepared for that.”

For former manager Ian Holloway, the idea of a football player coming out to him fills him with a sense of pride.

“It means the trust that I want to build is there,” he said.

“I would talk to them before anyone else about what they are gaining from it and why they believe they need to do it.

“I would encourage them to be their authentic self. I would make sure they are happy on and off the field. I would support them whichever way.

“I wouldn’t guide them one way of the other, it’s about them. But I’d feel proud they would want to share it with me.”

Football’s Coming Out launches on 25 January on All 4 and Channel 4’s YouTube.