Bisexual footballer disappointed after rival who abused him on pitch let off with fine

Jahmal Howlett-Mundle Sheppey United footballer photographed during a match

A semi-professional footballer who subjected a bisexual player to homophobic abuse during a match has been fined.

Ayokunle Odedoyin, 32, was playing for Tower Hamlets FC in August 2021 when he became aggressive towards 24-year-old Jahmal Howlett-Mundle of Sheppey United.

In a fit of rage over his team losing, Odedoyin tackled Howlett-Mundle to the ground and hurled homophobic abuse.

He called Howlett-Mundle a “gay p***y”, Howlett-Mundle tweeted at the time.

Howlett-Mundle, a school teacher, had only 10 days earlier come out as bisexual.

On Wednesday (13 July), Bexley Magistrates’ Court sentenced Odedoyin to perform 120 hours of unpaid work and ordered him to pay £1,120 in compensation and court fees.

Odedoyin had been found guilty in June on one count of using threatening or abusive words or behaviour to cause harassment, alarm or distress.

But Howlett-Mundle told BBC South East: “I don’t think justice has been done.

“I don’t think it’s going to deter people in the future from being homophobic.

“With short sentences like this, how are people supposed to understand that there’s a lot of pain and suffering that does happen to people like myself and other active LGBTQ+ football players.”

Rebecca Helliwell, a senior crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said following the trial: “Calling out and prosecuting homophobic language is vital to stamping out hate crime.

“These vile slurs have no place on our football pitches or society.”

After the game, in which Sheppy United beat Tower Hamlets 4-1, Howlett-Mundle said it was a “real shame” he was subjected to abuse.

He tweeted: “Comments such as those will not get under my skin or throw me off my game, and I do understand that unfortunately, it will happen again.”

Howlett-Mundle admitted to BBC South East that it can be difficult enduring such hate while playing the sport he loves.

He told the broadcaster: “I kept my cool as best as possible but it was really difficult holding in the tears while still trying to complete the game.”

Tower Hamlets vowed to investigate the incident at the time. “As a club, we want you to feel we do not tolerate this type of action and will take this very seriously,” the club tweeted.

When Howlett-Mundle came out to his Sheppy United teammates, the club had his back. He said one of the reasons he decided to live his truth openly was that it might “give others the confidence to follow suit”.

British football remains riddled with barriers when it comes to players embracing their authentic selves.

The treatment of Justin Fashanu, Britain’s first active professional player to come out as gay in 1990, still haunts the sport. Fashanu was hounded and harassed for years by the press up until his death by suicide in 1998.

Many have suggested that what holds LGBTQ+ footballers back from coming out is the abuse they fear they’ll get from fans. Homophobic chants, some of which the CPS consider hate crimes, remain common all too common.

This makes out and proud athletes like rugby’s Gareth Thomas and Olympic champion Tom Daley all the more inspiring, Howlett-Mundle said in a statement on his team’s website.

“Whatever anyone’s sexuality, you should not be treated any differently,” he said, “I’m just as hungry as any other player to step onto the football pitch and give my all to win for our team and our supporters.”