It’s been a rough week for proper football fans.
I should clarify. By ‘proper’, I mean people who watch football because they love the game, their team, the players or simply being in proximity to a neatly mowed patch of grass. Not the people who might otherwise claim the term; specifically those who go to games to bitch, fight and shout homophobic and/or racist abuse at participants and troll anyone who disagrees with their myopic vision of the game.
On Wednesday, the BBC published results of a survey about homophobia in football. 82% of supporters asked stated they would have ‘no problem’ with their club signing a gay player, while 71% believed their club should do more to educate people about homophobia. However, 50% claimed to have heard homophobic abuse at matches and an heroic 8% reckon they would stop attending games if their club signed a gay player.
This is important for a number of reasons. Not just because it gives clubs an insight into how easy it might be to rid their support of people whose IQ is below room temperature (paint the toilets pink and start a rumour that you can catch ‘the gay’ from seats is a good start) but because it’s 2016 and the press coverage forces footballing authorities to properly acknowledge that a small pocket of ignorance is once again ruining it for everyone else.
Can that be a bad thing? At face value, no. Yanking any issue out of the closet and parading it in front of people until they’re forced to acknowledge its existence might feel as clumsy as I am in high heels (homicidally) but historical precedent suggests it tends to be the first tentative step towards wider acceptance.
But it does worry me a little. Several pundits (many of whom I slagged off in last week’s column) have thrown their weight behind the story, dismissing ‘the eight percenters’ as ‘cavemen’ who have no place in modern football and ‘a minority of idiots’. But while it’s encouraging to hear people talking about this on the radio, TV and in the papers, others have advised caution, claiming the sport simply isn’t ready for openly gay footballers due to the level of abuse they might receive.
Colin Murray, a former BBC and TalkSport pundit, wrote a piece suggesting that the media’s unfortunate habit of fetishising sexuality will be so toxic in the event of an elite player coming out that the pressure will be intolerable. That his life will be made a misery, he’ll be stalked constantly by paparazzi desperate to get a picture of him with a partner, to find a kiss and tell story or whatever it takes to titillate their readers and sell a few extra copies.
It’s not a wild assumption, given that many footballers live under those conditions anyway. But it rather goes against the principle of what we’re trying to achieve here. That football is a universal game played by everyone and everyone is equal, regardless of who they sleep with, their ethnicity, colour or gender. We all need someone to aspire to, but won’t some young gay people take one look at the hideously intrusive, artificially hyped life of The Premier League’s First Gay Player ™ and decide that attention is not for them? Similarly, those expecting a huge fanfare when they come out are invariably going to be disappointed because, unless the people you love belong to the eight percent, they’re unlikely to treat you differently.
At the root of this issue is the normalisation of ‘gay’. While flamboyance has become a touchstone of perception of the gay community, it’s important, imperative perhaps, that we remember there’s a huge proportion of gay people for whom their sexual orientation is not part of their lifestyle. To be gay doesn’t mean to be better, worse, to have more or fewer rights than straight people, it means a person lives and loves a person of the same gender. That aside from the fact ‘they’ don’t need separate underwear drawers, that leaving the seat up permanently is fine unless guests are due and that arguments about who should take the bin out are just a bit more onerous because gender defaults can’t be applied, we’re all basically the same.
I’d love to see a player come out. But, and you can call me cynical if you want, elements of this sudden preoccupation with homophobia in football have, at best, an scent of bandwagon jumping about them and, at worst, opportunism as people try to figure out how they can benefit from this mythical media creation.
Neither of which are particularly helpful if you’re someone struggling with sexuality.
In better news, if you were planning to win the internet today, Patrice Evra got up early and posted this video. Unless you’ve got an actual dachshund in a Batman cape ordering a latte in your local branch of CostaBucks, forget it.
Bellissimo gesto dei tifosi del Napoli che hanno avverato il sogno di un ragazzo del reparto oncologia. Questa è la vera Napoli, il mio compito è anche sottolineare gesti straordinari come questo. Orgoglioso di essere napoletano, complimenti ai ragazzi della Curva B! @napolimagazine @PremiumSportHD #NapoliEmpoli #CurvaB #ForzaNapoliSempre
I fully understand that my diatribe against stupid football fans may have left you so depressed that Patrice Evra in a panda suit isn’t sufficient to bring you back round.
So here’s a video showing Napoli Ultras encouraging a kid with cancer to start the Curva chant and then singing along with him.
It’s almost like putting yourself aside for thirty seconds and doing something tiny for another person can change their life, isn’t it?