There has never been a better time for a footballer to come out and say: ‘I am gay.’ I completely disagree with Greg Clarke’s comments to the governance of football inquiry.
The FA chairman said he ‘loathes’ and ‘feels ashamed’ that football has not created the ‘safe space’ — but when is that likely to happen? Five years? Ten years?
He says there would be ‘significant abuse’, but is that true? We cannot use Twitter as a barometer of how people will react.
Mr Clarke’s comments to MPs were intended to show that football is taking homophobia seriously, but he may have created another unintended obstacle with the message: ‘We are not ready yet.’ Why not?
If I woke up to my morning Daily Mail and saw the headline on the back page ‘I am gay’ and an interview with a top Premier League or international footballer, I would think, ‘Good on you, but do I care?’
The story would create headlines, but the agenda would move on quickly. Is it a big deal? Yes, his initial performances would come under scrutiny, but would every story subsequently require an asterisk? I’m convinced 99.9 per cent of people would share the same view, so are we now setting the levels based on how the 0.1 per cent would react?
Fellow footballers would certainly be supportive.
A football club dressing room can be a brutal environment, with team-mates always seeking a chink in the armour, but there is no dressing room that I played in — at Norwich, Blackburn, Chelsea, Celtic, Birmingham or Aston Villa — that would react with anything other than support.
The fiercest dressing room was at Celtic. There were strong characters in Neil Lennon, Henrik Larsson, John Hartson and Craig Bellamy. It could be tough in there, because there was a strong school of banter and I loved it, but I can honestly say that if anyone had come out, the rest would have offered unwavering support.
The famed dressing room banter is usually tailored to the individual, too. If a team-mate is an introvert, he is unlikely to bear the brunt of the ribbing. It would be the same if a player was gay.
Gentle teasing might be as far as it went. Anything else would be bullying and team-mates would step in and stop it. That’s how it works.
Andre Gray, the Burnley striker, was banned recently for four games and fined £25,000 by the FA for comments made on Twitter in 2012 that were frankly Neanderthal.
In one posting he called for homosexuals to be ‘burned’. He has since said that he was ‘at a very different point in my life’. I cannot imagine there will be more than a few idiots within the game who share those views.
Supporters, especially rival supporters, are different, I know. And this is what Mr Clarke’s comments were aimed at, cleaning up football grounds.
But there are crass, naive, nasty people in all walks of life. It doesn’t stop young people in a school — or any workplace — from coming out, so why does football insist on putting itself on a pedestal?
Does anyone bat an eyelid when someone from music or entertainment comes out?
No footballer has done that in England while playing since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
Thomas Hitzlsperger, the former Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton midfielder, revealed his homosexuality after he had finished playing in the Premier League. Robbie Rogers came out when he had finished playing at Leeds. He now plays in the MLS for LA Galaxy. They have opened the door.
Home fans would be supportive of a player, some away supporters wouldn’t. Any offensive song is one too many, but would it be any worse than how a small group of Liverpool or Manchester United ‘fans’ taunt each other about the deaths at Munich and Heysel?
There are abusive, offensive views expressed among the 40,000-plus comments under the video posted on YouTube by diver Tom Daley when he told the world he was gay, but has that impacted on his life or his popularity?
I’m convinced that once the first gay footballer comes out, others will follow. It will be the best thing that happens to the homophobia debate.