Homophobia in football: 8% bigotry, 82% progress

A poll conducted by BBC Radio 5 live this week concluded that 82% of supporters would have no issue with their club signing a gay player. 8% claimed they would stop watching their team.

It is wholly understandable to concentrate on the latter statistic because it jars so malevolently with basic logic and normal sensibility. It is so adamant and biblical that it chills the blood. So I did concentrate on that, initially at least. I imagined what kind of closed mindset and skewed ignorance it would take for a person to stop supporting their team because one of the players had a different sexual orientation to their own.  It is fair to assume that at least some of that minority are in the habit of writing their club’s initials at the end of any social media post followed by the proud caveat ‘Till I die’. Till-death-or-until-I-become-aware-that-the-right-back-I’ve-previously-applauded-onto-the-pitch-has-a-partner-of-the-same-sex isn’t so succinct but would, seemingly, be more accurate.

“I’ve been following that club home and abroad for over thirty years man and boy. My old fella used to sneak me under the turnstiles and I cried when we lost that cup final. My scarf was damp with tears, it was. Women have come and gone but that club…sorry, give me a minute….That club… it’s my identity innit. If we lose my week is ruined. It we win I’m on cloud nine. But not anymore; not now we’ve signed one half of Adam and Steve.”

Such adherence to stupidity boggles the mind but perhaps it shouldn’t: the streets in the UK are far too full of homeless teens who dared come out to their parents only to be ejected from the family home. Even in the 21st century flesh and blood is sometimes no match for an individual’s viewpoint of how they perceive the world should be.

Leroy Sane crowd

Even so, my reaction to the poll’s findings was one of incomprehension and anger so I instinctively looked inward, to my own family, friends and acquaintances. They may be vastly different to your family, friends and acquaintances but I suspect not. Not vastly.

My nephew would laugh at that eight per cent. He would laugh at them like I used to laugh at Jerry Springer when I came home pissed around his age. It would be a laugh of disbelief. My mates – with an age range that spans two decades from youngest to oldest – are presumably as appalled as I am. Granted the level of disgust probably varies from person to person, but all will at the very least be dismayed at those stuck in the stone-age. My dad would emit a wry smile if an openly gay footballer signed for his club Manchester United.  It would be another example of a different world encroaching into his own and though he never has any objections, it’s one he struggles to understand. Graham Norton would probably be mentioned in his summary and I’d tut and then he’d say something like ‘As long as he scores against your lot,’ and we’d compromise on that.

The old blokes down my local boozer however, well it’s difficult to envisage them embracing the possibility of football joining the rest of the human race any time soon.

I am loathe to make this a generational issue but it’s hard not to at least include it into the discussion. Not when previous times allowed for heinous homophobic chants on the terraces and, 18 years ago, the tragic suicide of Justin Fashanu. Not when just ten years ago The Sun called Ronaldo a ‘nancy boy’ and Rio Ferdinand’s response to Chris Moyles on being asked who he’d rather date from his team-mates was to call Moyles a ‘f****t’.

Justin Fashanu of Norwich City on the attack Pic : Action Images

Now 82% profess to not giving a monkey’s about a footballer’s sexuality and though we should never stand still and congratulate ourselves at the irrefutable progress being made we should also not ignore that fact. Because progress offers hope and hope lends itself to further momentum.

Besides, that progress is most pertinent where it concerns not the eight per cent but the remaining ten. One in ten people when asked how they’d feel if a professional footballer joined their club declared ambiguity. That is perhaps where we should focus our attention the most, not the bigots beyond the reach of reason.

As for that eight per cent, if it does contain some ‘of a certain age’ then – bluntly speaking – that is a problem soon enough eased by nature and time. There is something else to consider, too.

A survey conducted in 2013 unearthed that eight per cent of the British public believed that HTML was a sexual disease while over in America 25% are of the opinion that God decides football games. Last year 46% of US citizens opposed ‘Obamacare’ but only 37% disagreed with the ‘Affordable Care Act’: they are one and the same.

We cannot legislate for everyone. It’s why there are warnings on packets of peanuts that it may contain nuts.

All we can do is ensure we’re on the winning side. And we are. At the beginning of this week I was aghast and depressed at the idea that a few thousand scattered among any given Premier League stadium are so ignorant as to have a problem with a player’s sexuality. Now, on further reflection, I take great pleasure in imagining their world view imploding as the defeats keep coming their way.