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Football can show the way… but first we need a pioneer

EIGHT per cent of football supporters would abandon their club if one of their players announced he prefers the company of men to women.

Forgetting for a moment the excitement of what an ideal opportunity this is to rid the terraces of prehistoric homophobes, the BBC’s statistic has probably pushed England’s first gay player that little bit further back into the closet.

Shame really. The reality of the situation is that if a top level player was to come out, he would instantly become one of the most marketable sportsmen in the country. Adidas and Nike would be falling over themselves, you can’t put a price on a pioneer. They would see the dollar sign in diversity.

If Madame Tussauds prefer to showcase a wax-work of a scantily clad Tom Daley in their hall of fame than two-time Wimbledon champion, Davis Cup winner and double Olympic gold medallist Andy Murray, the reality is that we actually don’t have a massive problem in this country. Acceptance is getting greater, but football, they fear, is still not ready.

But until someone puts their hand up and makes a ground-breaking decision, my theory that we don’t give our country or sport the credit its due won’t be put to the test.

Robbie Rogers is the closest we’ve come. The announcement was near. Instead, the Leeds United player opted to retire aged 25 before moving to the LA Galaxy. Oh, and he was gay.

Ian Ridley, the much acclaimed journalist and author, NLP regular and Salisbury director, picked a good moment to pop in the post his latest project.

Football’s Coming Out, an account of gay football fan and grass-roots player Neil Beasley, tells a story of his struggle and ultimately acceptance.

footballscomingout

The new book, Football’s Coming Out, about life as a gay fan and player

With a little help from Seth Burkett, he opens the door of ‘straight’ dressing rooms from the view of a grass-roots footballer who is different from the rest. Naturally there are bumps in the road along the way, but his journey is not one of regret.

Especially when the defender discovers the existence of Birmingham Blaze, a club competing in the National Gay League. But it’s when the team travelled to Budapest for its EuroGames the UK’s tolerance levels is perhaps best illustrated.

Armed police, exclusion zones, snarling locals and vicious protests about their existence. Just because a few gay football teams were in town for a tournament. It’s an eye-opening yet riveting read.

Nobody is suggesting we’re perfect here. But in comparison? When someone is brave enough, I believe you’ll be surprised at the reaction and actually by how tolerant we are here.

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