Justin Fashanu mural honours Britain’s first openly gay footballer

Justin Fashanu

A mural celebrating Justin Fashanu, the first openly gay professional footballer, has been unveiled in Norwich.

The painting of Fashanu, who died in 1998 aged 37, was commissioned by the landlord of the Fat Cat and Canary pub on Thorpe Road.

Pub landlord Christian Hodgkinson said Fashanu “means a lot to a lot of people, especially in Norfolk”.

“Being the first player to come out as gay, and obviously being Black as well, he faced a lot of adversity,” Hodgkinson said.

The artwork was created by David Nash, known professionally as Gnasher, and took eight hours to complete.

According to Hodgkinson, the pub’s previous mural, of former Norwich City manager Daniel Farke, had become out of date. With Norwich City, Farke became the first manager to lose 15 consecutive matches in English top-flight history. He was appointed head coach of Leeds United in July this year.

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The Farke artwork was also created by Gnasher, who “impressed” the landlord so much that Hodgkinson “had him come back to do Justin”.

Andy Reynolds, a season ticket holder and member of LGBTQ+ Norwich City fan group Proud Canaries, told BBC News that the mural is “terrific” and “so important at this time”.

“A kid will walk by and see that, whoever they are or who they love, they can aspire to play for our beloved Canaries,” Reynolds said.

“Christian Hodgkinson at the Fat Cat and Canary does a great job of celebrating our Norwich heroes.”

Proud Canaries are currently raising money for a statue in honour of Fashanu, which they hope will be located near to Norwich City’s home ground, Carrow Road.

Justin Fashanu was the first openly gay English professional footballer for over 30 years

Fashanu was brought up in Shropham, Norfolk, and began his football career as an apprentice with Norwich City. He turned professional in 1978 and played for the Canaries until 1981, scoring 40 goals for Norwich City over 103 appearances.

Fashanu then moved to Nottingham Forrest, becoming one of the very first footballers to command a £1 million transfer fee.

After publicly coming out as gay in an interview with The Sun in 1990, Fashanu remained the only professional English footballer to do so until Blackpool FC’s Jake Daniels in 2022. Fashanu became the target of hateful racist and homophobic crowd abuse throughout the 90s, but continued to play professionally in the top tiers of the game.

Justin Fashanu died by suicide in May 1998 after allegations of sexual assault from a 17-year-old boy in the US state of Maryland. An arrest warrant was issued for second-degree sexual assault and first-degree and second-degree assaults.

In the note he left, Fashanu denied the charges and wrote: “I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family.”

Suicide is preventable. Readers who are affected by the issues raised in this story are encouraged to contact Samaritans on 116 123 (www.samaritans.org), or Mind on 0300 123 3393 (www.mind.org.uk). ​Readers in the US are encouraged to contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 1-800-273-8255.