Yesterday, whilst perusing my Twitter timeline, I saw that a contact of mine had retweeted a message from someone calling themselves '@GayFootballerUK'. The message was quite cryptic, so I decided to take a look.
The account's biography states that the owner is a 'Secret Bisexual Premier League Footballer'. I must admit, my first thought was that it's an enormous shame that in 2013 (almost 2014), someone feels the need to be secretive about their sexuality. I think that says a lot about us as a society. My second thought was that this is actually potentially quite big news. The thing is, it shouldn't be.
By my own rudimentary calculations, there must be something like 3,000 footballers playing in the Premier League and subsequent three divisions of the Football League. Now, even the most conservative statistics state that approximately 1.5% of people in Britain are gay, lesbian or bisexual (some say it's as high as 10%, but let's play it safe for now). That's 45 professional players in Britain, or somewhere around 10-15 in the Premier League. So why are there no openly gay men in British professional football?
I think the problem is that someone needs to move first. Justin Fashanu was the first openly gay player and his story ended in his tragic suicide. That must have quite understandably set the schedule back a number of years for other players considering coming out.
Anyone who has attended football matches in the UK will be well aware that homophobic abuse is rife. However, my opinion is that this is probably partially because there are no openly gay players. I remember quite distinctly at school, one particular boy who used to be called 'gay', 'queer' and all sorts of vile names by the other kids for years. One day, when he was about fifteen, he blew his top and said "Yes, I'm gay, all right?". The taunts stopped immediately. It shouldn't have been necessary, though.
As I write this, the news has just started reporting that Olympic diver Tom Daley has said he's in a relationship with a man. Again, good on him but it's a huge shame that it needs 'admitting'. I'm straight and married and I don't need to let people know that, so why should Tom or the footballer feel the need to?
A 2009 survey showed that the majority of fans want to see homophobia taken out of football and that they would be very comfortable with and supportive of a player from their team being gay or bisexual. After all, all football fans know there are gay or bisexual players who play for their team, so knowing who they are would make very little difference. But then again, why should they have to know? I don't care whether my favourite footballers prefer McDonald's to Burger King, red wine to white or jumpers to cardigans, so why on earth should I care whether they prefer men to women?
Part of my writing background is in comedy (although that's probably pushing it as a definition). On the whole, a lot of things are only funny if they aren't wholly true. Real life is boring and mundane. Calling my best mate a fat git is funny, because he isn't fat. If he was eighteen-stone I'd probably think again. As it happens, he just needs to lay off the pies for a bit. This, in my opinion, is why homosexuality in football still seems to be some sort of joke. As soon as it's real life, it's no longer funny. So when I saw that one Premier League footballer was taking his first steps towards making it real life, I wanted to Twitter-high-five him in a completely manly, un-gay way.
We have to follow our instincts in life. And although my over-thinking brain tells me that it's a terrible state of affairs that anyone feels they have to 'admit' their sexuality, as if it were some sort of problem or deficiency, my overriding instinct is that this is a big step forward for all gay and bisexual people in sport and across the country.
Whoever you are, @GayFootballerUK, may I be among the first to throw my hat in the ring and give you my full support. I salute you.