I’ve had the pleasure of catching a preview screening of Russell Tovey’s new film, The Pass, and it helps to crystallise an element of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign that it’s easy to overlook.
(Before I start, there will be spoilers about The Pass in here. It’s released on 9th December if you want to see it for yourself.)
I’m a big fan of Rainbow Laces and love the increasing buy-in it’s getting from the top.
When I’ve spoken about homophobia in football previously, I’ve always talked about the importance of normalisation, and getting participation from the Premier League, Football League and their clubs (plus others) can only be a good thing, as it helps to educate people.
And looking at the comments on Facebook and Twitter after badges were changed to incorporate rainbow colours, it’s clear that a large number of people need educating. But it’s also clear that there’s hope too, with people of any sexuality explaining why the campaign is needed.
It won’t convince everyone, of course, but helping people to understand the issue means that there will be more allies next year, or when Kick It Out or Football v Homophobia run their own campaigns.
As a sheer numbers game, these campaigns primarily exist to help fans and park players around the UK – the many thousands of people who may not feel as safe as they should in a footballing environment. But the normalisation of relations between LGBT people and football will also see other beneficiaries – professional players themselves.
I say will because they do exist – whether it’s dozens or more – and they exist in silence.
Robbie Rogers felt that he had to retire and move back to America before he felt comfortable enough to be a gay professional footballer. Thomas Hitzlsperger only came out after his career ended. The tale of Justin Fashanu is as well known as it is tragic.
This is where The Pass comes in – the decade-long story of a gay man who experienced highs on the football pitch that escaped him off it due to keeping his sexuality a secret.
The descent into madness of Russell Tovey’s character Jason is Shakespearean in its way, ending in a drink-and-drugs addled mania that could be all too biographical for many real world players. What kind of life is that?
Holding out for a hero
When he was at Manchester United, current Preston keeper Anders Lindegaard suggested that gay players need a hero – someone to be a figurehead.
While some may reject the comments as cisplaining, I agree with him – having someone stand up and feel more nourished by the support they’ll receive than hurt by the inevitable haters will be a watershed moment.
It won’t mean immediate acceptance, but it certainly won’t hurt, be it for fans, park players or the pros. Of course, nobody should be pressured into doing it – you either have the personality to deal with the attention or you don’t – I know I’d very much be in the latter camp.
But when that day comes – and it will – hopefully the fictional ending for Jason or the factual ending for Justin will never have to happen again.