Jordan Henderson: ‘Damage is done’, say LGBTQ+ fans on Premier League return rumour

LGBTQ+ fans aren’t impressed by the rumours that Jordan Henderson wants to return to the Premier League – just six months after his controversial move to Saudi Arabia.

Former Liverpool captain and England international Henderson made the move from Anfield to Saudi Pro League outfit Al-Ettifaq – managed by ex-teammate Steven Gerrard – for a reported fee of £13 million ($16.5 million). It is believed he was being paid in the region of £350,000 ($445,000) a week.

The transfer came with furore and feelings of betrayal, including protests by fans and boos at England’s match against Australia, because the midfielder’s previous stances on LGBTQ+ inclusion sat in stark contrast to the gulf nation’s poor track record on human rights, and its continued criminalisation of queer people. 

During his career, Henderson built-up a reputation with queer fans as a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion in football and campaigned against discrimination in the game, including supporting Stonewall’s rainbow laces campaign.

Saudi Arabia, however, is one of the harshest places in the world to be queer because there are no legal protections for LGBTQ+ people, and same-sex behaviour is illegal – with the maximum penalty under the law being death. 

Henderson, to further criticism, defended his move, and there have been accusations of Saudi Arabia using football to “sportswash” its negative reputation. But now the midfielder is reportedly seeking to return to the top flight of English football. 

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It is understood he is struggling with the heat and low number of spectators at games – Al Ettifaq average fewer than 8,000 fans in a 35,000-seater stadium. The team are eighth in the league, having won just six of their 19 games so far – and sit a whopping 28 points behind table-topping Al Hilal.

“The general atmosphere is very much one of indifference,” Pride in Football co-chairperson and Three Lions Pride co-founder Joe White said of conversations with other LGBTQ+ fans.

“A lot of the comments were: ‘Oh dear, if only he knew what the circumstances might be like going out to Saudi Arabia before he went… oh wait, he could have just googled’. So, there’s not really any sympathy.”

White added that the “damage had been done” and Henderson has “lost any legacy of allyship and of any proactive engagement with the community” by moving to the Middle East. 

“There’s a lot of scepticism about whatever he does next, and any attempt that he may or may not make in trying to re-engage with the community,” White continued.

“It will take a lot for him to get back to the standing he [had] and I think there will be, rightfully, a lot of hesitancy from groups engaging with him again.”

Jordan Henderson is reportedly looking to return to English football just six months after his controversial move to Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

Much of this hesitancy arises from interviews Henderson gave after his transfer, where he defended the decision, denied it was over a large pay cheque and suggested he could make positive change in Saudi Arabia. 

“For him to try [to] justify his move [by] wanting to grow the Saudi league, wanting to go out there and build a positive impact on and off the pitch, to then turn around after six months and say: ‘Well, actually, I want to come back to the Premier League’ kind of undermines his reasonings for doing it,” White claimed. 

“He’s made no impact on LGBT inclusion in a country that criminalises us and can kill us. So, he’s kind of not done anything and he’s just undermined his whole record. It’s disappointing.” 

Taking to social media, other fans were also critical of the player who has 81 England caps.

“But what about Jordan Henderson spreading LGBT+ acceptance to Saudi, or was that just bulls**t?” one fan asked on X/Twitter.

Another wrote: “If he comes back to English football and tries to say what an ally he is to the LGBT community, he can poke his rainbow laces up his a**e.”

White feels there should be more conversations about younger players coming through the ranks, instead of the focus falling on those who are coming to the end of their careers. Henderson will be 34 at the end of the Premier League season.

“[England] have a really exciting team of young players coming through who are superb, who are switched on and engaged. Jordan Henderson is coming to the end of his playing career, both internationally and at club level,” White pointed out. 

“I would much rather our focus is on the next generation of players, making sure that they are supported, [in football ] academies and training points outside the footballing aspect of of their careers, that diversity and inclusion is a huge part of that so people feel confident and comfortable talking about the issues if they want to.”

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