Tragic story of late gay footballer Justin Fashanu to become major new ITV drama

Justin Fashanu

Justin Fashanu, the first active professional footballer in the world to come out as gay, will have his life honoured in new ITV drama, Fash.

The film – from BAFTA-nominated writer Kwame Kwei-Armah – will tell the footballer’s life and career, which was tragically cut short by suicide in 1998. It will also integrate the experiences of his brother John, also a footballer, who was estranged from Fashanu when he died.

Justin Fashanu was one of the most lauded sportspersons in British history: At only 20 years old, he landed a transfer worth £1m. He came out as gay in 1990 on the front page of The Sun, after being hounded by the tabloid press to come out.

The newspaper’s story prompted years of discrimination and backlash that tanked Fashanu’s career and spirit.

In 1998, Fashanu was accused of sexual assault by a 17-year-old boy in Maryland, US. Although the legal age of consent was 16 – and Fashanu maintained that the relations were consensual – homosexual acts were still illegal in Maryland.

Fearing his sexuality would prevent a fair trial, Fashanu ended his life on May 2, 1998 at 37 years old.

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Justin Fashanu of Norwich City. (Allsport UK /Allsport/Getty Images)
Justin Fashanu of Norwich City. (Allsport UK /Allsport/Getty)

In 2020, Fashanu was posthumously inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame. His niece, Amal, who has become an outspoken campaigner of LGBTQ+ rights in her uncle’s memory, accepted the award on his behalf.

In 2019, Amal founded the Justin Fashanu Foundation, which focuses on tackling racism and prejudice in football in support of mental health.

Even with a contentious history, other members of Fashanu’s family now support his legacy today.

His brother John – once estranged – is supporting the production of the drama, along with contributors like LGBTQ+ campaigner Peter Tatchell.

John Fashanu recently described himself as “an idiot” for not understanding and supporting brother Justin when he came out.

“I honestly wouldn’t say I was homophobic. I didn’t understand. That’s the key word. Yeah, not understanding. But that’s now 30 years ago,” he told GB News in November.

Fashanu’s story, both pioneering and tragic, is one which Fash writer Kwei-Armah finds timely.

“I grew up watching the Fashanu brothers. I was fascinated by them. Inspired by them. As an adult, my heart breaks for them,” Kwei-Armah said.

“‘The past is a foreign land’, the saying goes, ‘they do things differently there’. In Fash, I wanted to dive into that past, particularly one that has so many resonances with today.”

ITV Drama head Polly Hill said the Kwei-Armah’s scripts are “brilliant” and convey Fashanu’s story “in a way that is heart-breaking and sadly still relevant today.”