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Football and Homosexuality: Extra Time Needed.
Published : 11 Feb 2011 14:11:53
Recent incidents have brought footballing sexism into the glare of the spotlight. Other problems remain in the gloom. Andy and Richard are now giving afternoon radio a blast (and perhaps a smash) but now we’ve rid football of sexism, or maybe just Sky (although judging by the recent pictures of Charlie Webster SSN may need some work): what’s next? How about the big, pink, Homosexual Elephant in the room? One of the interesting aspects of the Gray/Keys affair was the almost complete lack of moral indignation expressed by the rank and file, Joe and even Joanna Public. That’s not to say that everyone who watches football is some form of Kestrel-swilling, Sun-reading, devil-dug caricature but even those who agreed that Gray and Keys’ actions were poor form were not so quick to assert that these private actions were worthy of such opprobrium or nomination as the most heinous act committed in the name of sport. Chief among the agents for the prosecution were the predominantly middle-class, largely male, almost exclusively white football columnists and writers for the Guardian and other broadsheets. Football, both in the UK and elsewhere across Europe and beyond, is a profoundly and fundamentally sexist game, enlivened by passion and bedevilled by problems with crowd behaviour which include violence but also encompass racism, xenophobia, fascism and pro-terrorist sentiments. Refreshingly, at least some of those problems are no longer as prevalent in the UK – the days of Celtic apprentice Gerry Creaney and his comrades having to sweep away the bananas are behind us – although it’s clear to see that politicisation of aspects of fan culture and behaviour is more focused and readily apparent than before. A recent lazy day in the STV offices (sorry, extensive research process) suggested there are 47 different nationalities plying their trade in the SPL alone, some of whom were born in countries many of us would struggle to locate on the map. This represents a truly cosmopolitan mix of races, cultures, creeds and (sadly for us fans) quality. I wonder how many are homosexual? There are over 300 players in the SPL squads – and 500 in the nominated lists of the EPL. How many of those players are homosexual? Nobody knows. How many are openly gay? None: zip; zilch. Not a single one. Perhaps there simply aren’t any and, in any case, why should it be any concern of ours what players get up to when they’re not scoring on the pitch? Well, if one footballer in the EPL ‘came out’ that would mean the percentage of homosexuals within the group was 0.2%. Treasury actuaries, when working on the ramifications of the Civil Partnerships Act, suggested a national figure of around 6%. Now, either the number of gay men who play football is – due to discrimination and other social factors – so far below what might be expected as to be a special case or there’s still a great stigma attached to the expression of one’s sexuality and a career as a public sportsman. At a time when the interest in the off-field antics and minutiae stokes an industry of celebrity news and rainforest destruction it would be hard to swallow the suggestion that there is no interest in the lifestyles of the rich and famous. As Scottish and British football has come closer to representing the changes within the demography of the island over the past decades, teams have moved far away from the types of line-up most common even a couple of generations ago and with that has come a change in the behaviour of fans and, indeed, their composition. What might have been, if not acceptable, then at least condoned in silence or passed off as banter is, rightly, no longer permissible even in a game often a long way behind advances in social behaviour. That said; the majority of fans are still white males, many of the unreconstructed variety, although not always the worse for it. But it’s certainly the case that homophobia, even of a gentle nature, is still broadly acceptable amongst fans, although some clubs and governing bodies have moved toward making it an offence likely to have you removed from the ground and your state of liberty. Interestingly, most recent surveys of attitudes suggest that traditional intolerance toward the idea of homosexual couples is on the slide, although cases such as the Elton John fatherhood story tend to Furnish Daily Mail columnists with the required eyeball-popping spirit to once again detail the destruction of the very fabric of British life. Part of that change must coincide with the decline of religion and the lessening of the impact of the more illiberal tenants of faith. Yet, although Britain has over the past generation or so moved firmly away from the Church, and many public figures of some standing have indulged in what has been dismissed as ‘militant atheism’, it is still the case that someone standing on a terracing, or loitering in the street, would be ill advised to make personal comment of a negative nature on the issue of religion – indeed, although in Scotland we’ve often been told that we should keep religion out of football, it seems to be one of the chief topics of interest for those who have no other real interest in the game. Being thought, said or proven to be anti-Roman Catholic is the highest crime in the land (being fundamentally anti-British or anti-Protestant is not so interesting or heinous). The RC Church seeks to tell people how to discipline their members and pokes many a nasus into matters outwith their remit, never once extending the courtesy to its own detractors. However, we should probably not get our hopes up waiting for any Church to fight discrimination on the grounds of gender, far less sexual preference. I’m sure most fans couldn’t really give a toss whether the guy two along from them has a boyfriend (many would no doubt be delighted if the girl two down had a girlfriend) but any particular intolerant fans would have to appreciate that – as an example – when they go to the Glasgow clash for the League Cup at Hampden among the 50,000 crowd are likely to be hundreds, more likely four figures worth, of men and women who prefer same sex partners. And at least one on the pitch or the bench, perhaps even the man who scores the winner. How many gay men are among those scribes and critics who were slating Gray and Keys and cherishing the victory for more restrained comment and sexual respect? We don’t know. It has no bearing on their talent for broadcasting or writing. But for so long as no player seems comfortable enough to be honest about one of the most important aspects of their life as a human being it is up to these people to ask why and to help facilitate the mood and shape the attitudes which allow this final taboo to be tackled.