England footballer Jordan Henderson’s Saudi Arabia move labelled ‘ultimate betrayal’ by LGBTQ+ fans

Footballer Jordan Henderson wears an England strip and gets ready to throw a football over his head during a match

England star Jordan Henderson is reportedly set to join Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ettifaq FC, prompting LGBTQ+ fans to reject his previous allyship.

Henderson, who has demonstrated years of support for the LGBTQ+ community, is on the cusp of moving to Al-Ettifaq FC after Liverpool agreed a fee in principle of £12m plus add-ons with the Saudi Pro League club, The Guardian reported.

The 33-year-old Liverpool captain reportedly agreed a contract with Al‑Ettifaq last week, however the move has not yet been finalised. 

The move caught many queer fans by surprise given Henderson’s allyship and Saudi Arabia’s hardline stance against homosexuality – it’s technically punishable by death.

Ryan, a gay Huddersfield fan, said it has made him “lose respect” for Henderson, and that he is “disappointed and hurt” the footballer would move to a country which criminalises LGBTQ+ people. 

“I think it speaks volumes that everything he said as a supposed ally to the LGBTQ+ community wasn’t meaningful at all,” Ryan told PinkNews.

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“I feel extremely disappointed and hurt… He has turned his back on us and showed complete disrespect. It feels like the ultimate betrayal.

“To say you stand up for our community and then be quite happy to go to a country with such disgusting laws is beyond me.”

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Henderson was nominated for Football Ally at the LGBT+ Awards in 2021, and has previously backed Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, claiming in 2022 that he was “proud” to support the initiative, and that “football is for everyone”. 

Ryan compared the move to the men’s World Cup being held in anti-LGBTQ+ Qatar, which was dogged by controversy.

Ryan added: “One of the impacts this may have moving forward will be that on the rare occasion the football players choose to support us, we will be more cautious to see if they actually mean it.”

3LionsPride, a fan group for LGBTQ+ England supporters, said in a statement: “As co-founders, we have long said that we do not like the title of ‘ally’ for those who support the LGBT+ community…

“Queer people do not have the privilege of escaping the consequences for their existence – the damage to our mental health as a consequence of our time in the closet, the risks to our safety or lives as a consequence of our visibility and the exclusion from spaces like football as a consequence of our actuality.

“The fickle nature of allyship has been evident in recent history from David Beckham’s promotion of Qatar, losing him the ‘gay icon’ title from Attitude Magazine and Joe Lycett.

“Once again, our existence and the concept of ‘allyship’ towards us is feeble in comparison to a vast paycheck. The ability to say the right words when they are easy and abandon them when money talks or times get tough is exactly why the term ‘ally’ is outdated and ineffective.”

The LGBTQ+ fan group added that footballers should “do better” and “fight when times are tough”.

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Jordan Henderson wears a rainbow captain’s armband (Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

LGBTQ+ fan network Pride in Football added: “A few years ago, Jordan Henderson said that you should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the community if you feel something is wrong, and now he is transferring to the other side of the world to play in a country where those very people he defended are attacked and imprisoned for being who they are.

“All the campaigns he has been a part of now feel meaningless, and I’m sure his original intentions were good, but he’s throwing away everything he’s said, and hurting a community of people who trusted him. 

“It’s disappointing that someone we as a community trusted has all but turned his back on everything he has said and done, but another example of how maybe footballers are being over-praised for simply being supportive.”

Saudi Arabia reportedly updated its official advice in May to claim it will welcome LGBTQ+ visitors, despite the fact that homosexuality is punishable by death, and there are no anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people. 

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