Socialist Alternative

Player Jake Daniels comes out: Drive homophobia out of football!

Earlier this week Blackpool striker Jake Daniels became the first active British male professional footballer to come out as gay. In doing so he became the first male footballer in this country to come out publicly since Justin Fashanu 32 years ago. Fashanu, as a result, was tragically driven to suicide after years of homophobic abuse from fans, the media and managers. It is now rightly hoped that Daniels’ announcement will instead encourage others from within the game who have been hesitant to do the same.

On coming out, Daniels said: “Now is the right time to do it. I feel like I am ready to tell people my story. I want people to know the real me. I have been thinking for a long time about how I want to do it, when I want to do it. I know now is the time. I am ready to be myself, be free and be confident with it all.”

However, he has also said that, “The subject of being gay, or bi or queer in men’s football is still a taboo. I think it comes down to how a lot of footballers want to be known for their masculinity. And people see being gay as being weak, something you can be picked on for on the football field.” These attitudes are sadly still prevalent in football, as seen in a 2019 survey conducted by the bookmaker, Paddy Power. Although 80 per cent of fans said they would be uncomfortable hearing homophobic abuse at a match, the survey found, only 30 per cent said that they would feel comfortable seeing two men kissing during a game.

Bigotry in society

As socialists, we understand that these homophobic views and discrimination more generally in football are not divorced from that which exists in wider society. Indeed, the ills of football reflect society, as can be seen in the growing instances of racist and sexist abuse targeted at players and pundits on social media platforms. Last season, for example, former England international, Karen Carney, was forced to delete her Twitter account after remarks she made in her role as a TV pundit about Leeds United were mocked by the club’s official account and led to waves of sexist abuse. Furthermore, racism has been a centuries-old disease in Britain and particularly in football; in the 70s and 80s the game became synonymous with racism and ‘hooligan culture’.

It is true to say, however, that men’s football has lagged behind other sports as a game in which LGBTO+ people can be open and comfortable about their sexuality. This is in stark contrast to the women’s game. For example: according to FIFA, more than 40 LGBTQ+ players took part in the 2019 women’s World Cup in France. And this is the real significance of Daniels’ openness and willingness to talk about his sexuality. His courage will speak to other footballers but will also have resonance in wider society.

There has been a huge amount of support for Daniels on social media, from former and current players, such as Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher and the current England captain, Harry Kane. Football clubs across the country, together with the governing bodies, have also expressed their support for Daniels. Last year, in response to the growing racist abuse on social media, Football League clubs led a four day boycott of social media. Whilst moves such as these are positive, as is the widespread support for Daniels, football clubs must go beyond activity on social media. We should now organise to put maximum pressure on our clubs to educate fans on the nature and effects of all forms of discrimination on individuals and wider society. 

Reclaim our game!

This winter, the same football authorities and personalities that have praised Daniels, will be travelling to Qatar to take part in the World Cup. Homosexuality is banned in Qatar and punishments for same-sex acts range from flogging to lengthy prison terms and execution. The world’s only other openly gay professional footballer, Australian Josh Carvallo, said that he would be “scared” to play in Qatar this winter. Meanwhile, the matches will be played in stadia built by slave migrant labour from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. More than 6,500 of these workers have been killed on construction sites since Qatar were awarded the tournament in 2010.

That the ‘great and the good’ of football will travel to Qatar and take part in the World Cup is indicative of the corporatisation and the pernicious effects that capitalism has had on football. The game is being run more and more in the name of profit rather than the fans and the local communities. 

Today we see owners of Premier League and Championship clubs such as Emirati royalty with poor human rights records in Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City. Recently, the super-exploitative retail tycoon Mike Ashley of Sports Direct sold Newcastle United to the Saudi Arabian government. All these owners are using their football teams not only to make massive profits but also to try to rehabilitate their public image, thoroughly discredited by decades of repression. 

Clearly, what is in order is a movement to reclaim our grounds and clubs from big business. Football in this country was born out of working class communities but has been poisoned by the pursuit of profit which has permeated into every aspect of our lives. The antidote to the ills of football and society are similar: public ownership and democratic management with the participation of workers and the community. Whether that be of an individual football club, or the commanding heights of the economy.

Resist discrimination in the game

When Josh Cavallo came out as gay last October, he received similar support and messages of solidarity that we have seen this week. However, just a few months later he was suffering homophobic abuse from the stands. 

As socialists we understand attitudes towards sexuality and gender are inherently tied to the kind of society we live in. And sadly, we should anticipate that at some point Jake Daniels will receive the same disgusting treatment from the stands. In response fans will need to get organised to fight back, not just in defence of Daniels, but to resist all forms of discrimination at all levels of the game.