The PFA would like to congratulate everyone who contributed to Channel 4 documentary, Football’s Coming Out. It was great to see so many LGBT+ allies taking part, including PFA member, Patrick Bamford, former player, Joleon Lescott and revered manager, Ian Holloway.
Airing earlier this week, the documentary explored the relationship between football and sexuality, with people from across the football family sharing their perspectives. In a stark change from the sensationalist way the media usually frames conversations about gay footballers, the tone of the programme was refreshing. It was helpful and reassuring to see this issue being discussed in a factual and focused way.
Throughout the documentary, players, managers, agents, journalists, campaigners and fans talked about why there are no openly gay footballers playing at the highest level of the men's game in England. The programme also focused on what the journey might look like for a top-flight player who comes out publicly in the biggest football league in the world.
Leeds United striker, Patrick Bamford, was the highest-profile current player taking part in the documentary and was optimistic about what would happen if a teammate came out. “I’d imagine if a player came out as gay, they’d probably go to confide in the captain,” he said. "And then the captain would bring the group together, and you'd have a players-only meeting, and everyone would be told the news. I know in our changing room I don't think there would be much of a reaction. Everyone would be like, ‘OK’. It shouldn’t be that big a deal in this day and age.”
Currently, there are no openly gay male players in the Premier League or English Football League. However, Thetford Town player-manager, Matt Morton, who came out in 2019, is certain there are footballers playing at that level who are gay. He said, “Since Justin Fashanu came out 30 years ago, not a single men’s player has come out while still actively playing. There are 100 per cent gay men in elite football in this country. They just don't feel comfortable yet to be themselves.”
Former Manchester City and England defender, Joleon Lescott, suggested one of the reasons gay players could be hesitant to come out was because they could potentially face homophobic abuse – something Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo recently experienced. Josh came out in October 2021 and received global support. He remains the only openly gay player in any top-flight division in the world and recently had to condemn homophobic abuse he received from fans during a match against Melbourne Victory. Joleon said, "Growing up, there were a lot more gay jokes and [being gay] was viewed in a more negative light.” However, he also felt attitudes had changed since he was younger, saying, "I think the perception of gay males has changed."
The documentary also touched on the fine line between banter and bullying, the potential commercial impact of a player choosing to disclose they were gay and the power of the dressing room to make gay players feel safe. Former Premier League manager, Ian Holloway, explained he would be 'very proud' if one of his players had come out to him because it would demonstrate a culture of trust. However, he also shared his hard-line policy for players who disrespected others, especially anyone who chose to come out. He said, “Anybody in the group who was negative towards that, I would get rid of, without a shadow of a doubt, because they are not a human being that I would want to put my name to.”
After watching Football’s Coming Out, PFA EDI Director, Simone Pound, assured all players they could count on PFA support should they ever choose to disclose their sexuality.
She said, “As the players union, our role is to advocate for progress, and we believe that a player who wants to come out at this time would be applauded, as we have seen in other sports and across industries. Our job at the PFA is to ensure that we can work alongside any player and their club to help navigate the process on a case-by-case basis - there is no specific formula. We have been in touch with every player who has come out in recent years to hear their stories and are working with colleagues in the US and Australia to ensure we continue to work on best practice.”
Football is everyone’s game. If you want advice about coming out or would like support for any other Equality, Diversity or Inclusion matter, please get in touch with our team.
You can watch Football Is Coming Out on All4.