December 10 2013 Latest news:
Friday, September 20, 2013
In 2011 reporter PETER WALSH appealed for people from Norwich with memories of former Canaries star Justin Fashanu to come forward as part of a new book. Their contributions helped author Nick Baker create Forbidden Forward, a candid insight into the tragically short life of Britain’s first million pound black footballer and the first to come out as being gay.
At the end of the 1981/92 season Forest finished in the bottom half of the First Division, their lowest position since promotion to the top flight back in 1977. Clough was unimpressed. Fashanu’s fortunes didn’t improve either. He suffered a fractured knuckle in a friendly game in Spain during Forest’s 1982 summer tour.
After returning to England, Justin made one of the biggest decisions of his life: to reconnect with his absent father. The last time he’d seen Patrick Fashanu was almost twenty years earlier when the footballer had been a toddler. It was 1963 and Patrick left his family in London to travel back to Nigeria. The decision had enormous ramifications for the family, particularly Justin and John. The elder brother had never been quite able to get over the abandonment and spent the subsequent years of his life trying to find another father figure. According to J. John, the footballer wanted to see his estranged father to find out more about him and ask him why he had left his family.
Justin’s trip to Lagos, Nigeria was no secret to local reporters who were waiting for him in arrivals at the airport. The footballer told them he had come to meet the man who he was related to by blood but knew nothing about. During the visit Justin sent a postcard to his friend Gordon Holmes and Gordon’s wife Betty in Norwich.
Dear Gordon and Betty,
This is going to be a great trip. We have met our uncle and brothers (same father but lots of wives). We meet our father over the weekend for the first time. Should be good. I might even stay!! The living conditions are very good for the rich but very poor for others without money. I hope to find out about myself and the Fashanu family over this trip.
Lots of Love,
The content of the postcard reveals that Justin was hoping for something positive to come out of the trip. However, it wasn’t to be. The meeting between father and son was recorded on TV by a local news station. A reporter asked Justin whether he thought his father had abandoned him prompting the player to reply: ‘The way I look at that is my father has come back to Nigeria. The way the press said it is that he abandoned (me), but I have never said that.’ That may be what Justin said publicly but the truth lay elsewhere. The meeting was short and obviously not as fruitful as Justin had hoped because it would be the last time the young Fashanu saw his father again. Justin never discussed the trip with anyone, but it was obvious to those who knew him that he returned to England a disappointed man. As such, the footballer’s search for a replacement father figure only continued.
When Fashanu got back to Nottingham a deep sense of uncertainty was also affecting his career. No sooner had he stepped through the gates of the City Ground than he was summoned to the manager’s office. Clough told him to pack his bags as he was being sent to Southampton on loan. For many Forest fans this meant only one thing: Fashanu’s days at the City Ground were as good as numbered.
A week before his meeting with Fashanu, Clough had called his friend Lawrie McMenemy, the manager of Southampton. The conversation had been short and to the point. Clough wanted to know if McMenemy could take Fashanu off his hands. The Saints manager knew that things hadn’t been working out for the footballer at Forest, but taking the striker on himself was another story.
As it happened, McMenemy had a little problem of his own. His star striker, Kevin Keegan, had decided to leave after two years at the club to join Newcastle United. This meant McMenemy was without a striker right as the season started. The timing could not have been worse. With this in mind, McMenemy told Clough that he might be able to help him out after all, but would have to speak to his board of directors first. With the board also worried about the situation they gave their manager an immediate ‘okay’ to pick up Fashanu. Clough was in luck. According to McMenemy, the plan was to take the Forest forward on loan for one month and see how it worked out. McMenemy still remembers the conversation he had with Justin.
‘I remember he sat in my office and I reeled off the deal and what the bonuses would be and that kind of thing. When I’d finished talking, he sat and looked at me. I said: “Well, there you go then, there’s the pen. What’s the problem?”
“Well, I want to know what else I’m getting,” he replied.
“What else you’re getting? You haven’t come here to make money pal.” I said.
“Well, I expected more than that.”
There was a brief pause and then I said: “I tell you what. I’ll just get Brian Clough on the phone and see what he’s got to say shall I?”
“Give us the pen!” he snapped and quickly scribbled his name on the contract.’
Fashanu knew he needed to get away from Clough and staying at Forest was NOT an option. While he thought his contract was open for negotiation, however, McMenemy knew otherwise: ‘I think in his own mind he was a star striker and thought he was coming down to Southampton to do us a big favour. I knew the set up and that he had to come because Brian had told him to,’ McMenemy says.
During the meeting, McMenemy noticed that Justin didn’t have a suitcase with him. The only clothes he had seemed to be the ones he was wearing. Calling in one of the apprentices, the Saints manager told him to take the striker into town and show him some stores. It would prove to be a costly mistake. A week later, a bill arrived at the club from one of Southampton’s more refined tailors. Attached was a note that said Fashanu had purchased several suits and instructed them to send the invoice there. McMenemy was stunned. That would not the only bill the Saints received for Fash. Over the next few months parking fines also arrived by the handful.
To see the story behind how Fashanu came out to the world, see tomorrow’s paper.
Forbidden Forward, which is published by Reid publishing, is out now and available at Waterstones or via www.justinfashanustory.com for £14.99.