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A day of great importance

A day of great importance

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17-year-old Jake Daniels has become the first male footballer in the UK to come out as gay in 32 years. So how has the journey to get here taken so long?

On Monday evening, 17-year-old Blackpool forward Jake Daniels became the UK’s first male professional footballer, who is currently playing, to come out as gay since Justin Fashanu 32 years ago. 

“Because there’s no-one out, I felt like I did need to hide it and wait until I’ve retired to maybe come out, but I just knew that that is just such a long time of lying and not being able to have what I want.”

Sky Sports News

It is a seismic moment for Jake, and also for football in this country, but why?

“What he’s just done tonight takes incredible courage. We’ve both lived in a dressing room for many, many years and that would seem like the unthinkable to basically announce that you are gay into a dressing room. I can’t imagine how difficult that’s been, really – so all I would say it’s that it’s a day of great importance for obviously Jake and his family, but also I think English football, it’ll go down in history.”

Sky Sports News

That’s Gary Neville talking on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football.

He highlighted how a young footballer now feeling comfortable enough to come out as gay shows how far the game has come since his playing days.

For years it has been a taboo subject in all areas of football. 

The so-called dressing room ‘banter’, and instances of homophobic chanting from terraces have traditionally made the sport a hostile place for gay people.

But in recent years, some of those attitudes have changed.

Last October, Australian A-League player Josh Cavallo became the first openly gay male footballer playing professional top-flight football.

He was namechecked in Jake Daniels’ statement, who said he was an inspiration for coming out. 

It should be added that since Justin Fashanu came out in 1990, there have been gay footballers that have played in the English leagues – but they’ve come out after playing in this country.

Thomas Hitzlsperger is perhaps the most well known professional footballer to come out. He had a distinguished career for Aston Villa and Germany, and came out following his retirement in 2013.

American defender Robbie Rogers played for Leeds and Stevenage in the English leagues before coming out in 2013. He became the first openly gay player to compete in a top North American professional sports league when he played for LA Galaxy in May 2013.

So Jake Daniels is not alone, but this is a moment for his generation.

At 17 years old, he’s played just nine minutes of league football, and only just signed his first professional contract.

He has his entire career ahead of him, and he’s aware that now he’s come out, fans may target him because of his sexuality. 

“I think it is an easy thing for people to target, I’m kind of just learning that, if I’m playing football on the field and they’re shouting things at me… you’re paying to watch me play football and live my life and I’m making money from it, so shout all you want, it’s not going to make any difference. I can’t stop people saying that stuff, but I just need to learn for it to not affect me.” 

Sky Sports News

Josh Cavallo received homophobic abuse in January during a match against Melbourne Victory, and said he had ‘no words’ to describe how disappointed he was. 

He said, quote, “I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t see or hear the homophobic abuse at the game last night. As a society this shows we still face these problems in 2022.”

What Jake Daniels has had the courage to do is a watershed moment for the sport, but homophobic incidents show football still has a long way to go – and some of that change needs to come from the top of the game.

Last summer, UEFA was accused of being slow to act after homophobic incidents during last year’s Euros.

A homophobic banner was displayed during Hungary’s opening two matches, which resulted in just a two-match ban on spectators attending their games.

Europe’s football governing body also declined a request to illuminate Munich’s Allianz Arena in rainbow colours, because it said the gesture had ‘political’ context.

The official Twitter account of FIFA, football’s world governing body, tweeted its support for Jake Daniels.

But you can’t escape the fact that FIFA awarded the upcoming World Cup to Qatar, a country where it is still illegal to be homosexual.

Australian Josh Cavallo said he would feel ‘scared’ playing at the tournament, should his country qualify.

Change in football is often slow, and very rarely comes from top-down, so it has taken people like Jake Daniels and Josh Cavallo to show the world that you can be an openly gay footballer.

Jake Daniels says he feels liberated – proud to be himself, and now wants to inspire others to do likewise. 

As he signed off in his statement, ‘You being you, and being happy, is what matters most.’

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and mixed by Ella Hill.