Gay footballer Zander Murray says his 20s felt like personal ‘conversion therapy’

Zander Murray in front of an LGBTQ flag

Gay Scottish footballer Zander Murray opens up about his struggles with internalised homophobia in a new BBC documentary.

Like many queer people before him, Zander Murray dealt with mental health struggles before coming to terms with his sexuality.

“It’s such a hard, hard thing to try and process that,” he tells PinkNews.

“It was good being on the pitch – that was my release – after that it was just impending doom. That was when the internalised homophobia just built and built and built.” 

He’d first realised he wasn’t attracted to women during his school days, while his classmates rifled through copies of lads mags like Nuts and Zoo.

When he went to university, in his early 20s, he desperately tried to live life as a straight man. He describes it as a form of personal “conversion therapy” that he pushed himself through.

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Zander Murray in a still from his new BBC documentary. He is pictured on a pitch holding a football.
Zander Murray in the BBC documentary about his life and career. (BBC)

“That’s where my mental health struggles began… you’re fighting something that you’re just meant to be,” he says.

“It came to a point that I was in a relationship with a woman and I just knew deep, deep down, that’s enough, I can’t put myself through this again.”

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Zander Murray, now 31, came out publicly in September, becoming the first openly gay senior Scottish footballer in history.

He was 27 when he first accepted his sexuality. At that time, he was already working his way up the football ladder. He loved the sport, but attitudes to queerness weren’t always kind.

“Being a gay person in that environment was seen as inferior. There [were often] derogatory remarks in the dressing room. I don’t think they were necessarily homophobic, it’s just a lack of education… and that has a huge impact. You just think, this is a horrible thing.” 

After taking the time to come to terms with who he is, in April 2021 he found the courage to come out to family and friends.

New Bonnyrigg Rose signing Zander Murray is pictured at Poltonhall Recreation Ground.
Zander Murray joined Bonnyrigg Rose earlier this year. (Craig Foy/Getty)

“For some people, it’s easy to accept themselves then come out but for me they were two different things because of the football world,” Murray says.

“It took me until September 2022 and I just had that eureka moment and I thought: ‘You know what, I could be a pillar in this community and actually help people, inspire people’. I got to the point where I fully accepted myself.” 

Thankfully, Murray’s coming out experience was positive – he was embraced by family, friends and by his teammates – but he knows things are far from perfect in men’s football more broadly.

The issue of homophobia in football is teased out in Zander Murray’s new BBC documentary, Disclosure: Out on the Pitch.

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New Bonnyrigg Rose signing Zander Murray is pictured at Poltonhall Recreation Ground, on January 17, 2023.
Zander Murray came out in September 2022. (Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty)

“The documentary is about my life, me growing up as a young gay player in a professional set up, talking about the difficulties I had, my struggles,” says Murray, who joined League Two side Bonnyrigg Rose in January.

It also includes interviews with “powerful, amazing people” from the LGBTQ+ and football communities to get to the core of how men’s football can be made more inclusive.

“The real aim of this is, I just hope it hits home to that person who’s going through a really tough time, who’s maybe feeling alone, feeling like an outsider,” Murray adds.

“I also wanted to try [to] change perceptions of that homophobic father who’s giving his son or daughter, or whatever they identify as, a tough time.”

Zander Murray celebrates as he makes it 1-1 during a Scottish Cup First Round match between Gala Fairydean Rovers and Sauchie Juniors at Gala RFC.
Zander Murray celebrates after scoring in a cup match for Gala Fairydean Rovers, before his move to Bonnyrigg Rose. (Craig Brown/SNS Group via Getty)

The documentary acknowledges that much has changed in football in the past 20 years, but there’s still a way to go.

“There are more role models, there’s more visibility, which is great, fantastic, but certainly there’s still a lot to be done,” he says.

“Homophobic slurs at games are definitely not out of the game. More education is needed.

“I’ve been in the game for a long, long time but it’s certainly not at a point yet where we can just sit back in an armchair. There’s still a long of work to be done.” 

Zander Murray – Out on the Pitch airs on BBC One Scotland on Monday (13 March) at 8pm and is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer now.

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