Saturday, July 12, 2014
A London indie band has recorded a single in tribute to Canaries legend Justin Fashanu.
The striker, who was Britain’s first million pound black player and the first footballer to disclose he was gay, took his own life in 1998.
Three-piece band Elephants and Castles hope their song Fashanu will help tell his story to a new audience.
Singer and guitarist Robin Spencer said: “Today in an an era where high profile sports stars such as [diver] Tom Daley, [American football star] Michael Sam and [rugby player] Gareth Thomas are open about their sexuality, Justin’s story should not be forgotten, it should be told.”
Mr Spencer, who grew up near Lincoln, met Fashanu on a football course.
Justin Fashanu was born to a Nigerian barrister and a Guyanese nurse.
His parents split up when he was young, and together with his brother John he was sent to a Barnardo’s home then a foster family near Attleborough.
He began his football career as an apprentice with Norwich City, turning professional in 1978.
Fashanu scored 40 goals for the Canaries – including his famous strike against Liverpool in 1980 – in 103 appearances between 1979 and 1981.
He became Britain’s first £1m black footballer when he transferred to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in 1981, and was the first player to come out as gay in an interview with the tabloid press in 1990.
There was a subsequent backlash in a climate of prejudice, and he became a target of crowd abuse and struggled to get a full-time contract.
He took his own life at a block of garages in Shoreditch in 1998.
“I was a kid and he was the main guest,” he said.
“I remember him being a striking presence and he played for my favourite team at the time – Nottingham Forest. I had his poster on my wall and followed his career.
“When I found out about his suicide, it was a shocking moment for me, and then as I got into music and writing, I decided it was a story I wanted to tell.”
He said he came to understand the “harsh reality” of professional football in the lower leagues when he got a taste of it himself.
Mr Spencer had been an apprentice at Lincoln City – the club Justin’s brother John played for – around 1992, alongside Canaries legend Darren Huckerby.
“It gave me an insight of the world Justin inhabited in the late 70s and early 80s when being a black and gay footballer would have been extremely tough,” he explained.
The band took a biographical approach to writing the song’s lyrics, including Fashanu’s early life.
“He continually struggled to fit in with society around him,” said Mr Spencer.
“He was fostered out and had a really loving family in the Norfolk area, then when he went on to play football as a black footballer in the late 1970s it was a really harsh place to be.
“He found religion but it clashed [with his sexuality]. I think he became more and more isolated.”
He added: “He wasn’t an angel –none of us are – but he was a true trailblazer and I don’t think he gets the recognition.”
He said he hoped that in time more players would feel able to talk about their sexuality in the public glare, and that more anti-homophobia measures would be put in place.
Elephants and Castles formed two years ago. The band’s members are Mr Spencer and Chris Anderson, both on guitar and vocals, and Adam Lucas on drums.
Their single Fashanu is set to be released on July 21.
To hear it before then, see www.soundcloud.com/elephantsandcastles
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