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Fashanu-inspired initiative targets football's gay issue

PUBLISHED: 12:59 17 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:13 02 July 2010

Jonathan Redhead

This Friday would have been Justin Fashanu's 49th birthday. The prodigiously talented young forward should be remembered for his skills on the pitch and his goals, or in particular, that goal.

This Friday would have been Justin Fashanu's 49th birthday.

The prodigiously talented young forward should be remembered for his skills on the pitch and his goals, or in particular, that goal.

Even if you weren't at Carrow Road on February 9, 1980, then everybody has seen the stupendous goal Norwich City striker Fashanu scored against the then mighty Liverpool and the famous arm-aloft celebration that followed.

The left-footed strike was made Match of the Day's Goal of the Season from one of the greatest games at Carrow Road, and indeed in the top-flight, in living memory.

The goal, and the skill involved, went some way to making his name, securing Fashanu's £1m move from the Canaries to Nottingham Forest in 1981.

But from there, things didn't pan out the way they could have, and perhaps should have, for the young centre forward - an old Barnado's kid who became a Norwich City Hall of Fame member.

Spells in footballing backwaters followed and now Fashanu is often remembered less for the on-field highlights, and more for the fact that he was the first professional footballer in England to openly admit he was gay.

The former England Under-21 star battled against homophobia, prejudice and discrimination throughout his chequered career, and his life came to a tragic end in 1998 when he committed suicide in a garage in Shoreditch, east London.

However, his contribution to the game has not been forgotten and on Friday, a special exhibition takes place at The Forum, in Norwich city centre celebrating the life and times of Fashanu, who often lit up Carrow Road during his 103 appearances and 40 goals for City between 1979 and 1981.

The exhibition is part of the Football v Homophobia initiative launched by the Justin Campaign, and his niece, Amal Fashanu, will be on hand to talk to people and tell his story, before a football competition takes place at Carrow Park, next to the football ground.

The Justin Campaign was set up in honour of Fashanu in a bid to 'challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions that exist around gay men in football and work towards a future where the visibility of gay and bisexual men in professional football are both accepted and celebrated'.

Events are planned for right across the world on Friday, but the main focus will be in this city, where Fashanu first made the grade more than 30 years ago.

However, the group has its work cut out.

To this day, homosexuality is probably the biggest taboo left in the 'beautiful' game.

The on-going battles against racism and sexism in football have had some successes, but gay footballers, Fashanu aside, have never found their voice.

The Football Association are among those organisations struggling to come up with an answer, let alone a solution to the problem.

They postponed the release of a controversial anti-homophobia advert because they want to conduct further 'consultation' about its hard-hitting nature, before the video was leaked out anyway. It's a decision which has left many groups, including the Justin Campaign, less than impressed. Now they want to use the launch of the Football v Homophobia initiative on Friday to fight the prejudices in the game at all levels - and believe Fashanu's first stamping ground is the best place for it.

“It's a common misconception that gay people don't like football, don't play football, can't play football which is homophobic in itself,” said Darren Ollerton of the Justin Campaign.

“This misconception we want to put to rest by using Football v Homophobia as a vehicle to do that.

“We've got events confirmed in Washington DC, in Mexico, in Spain, in France, in Germany, so I think the power behind it is that people get to grasp how much of a gay following for football is out there and in doing that I think it's making people wake up to the fact this stereotyping and this one shoe fits all scenario isn't necessarily the case.”

Ollerton said while the organisation 'knows' of gay footballers in the top-flight, the focus is not about outing them.

“It's not something we squarely focus on,” he said.

“I don't think the environment of football, especially on the terraces has changed at all and at an executive level as well.

“I think we're naïve if we think this is just a fans problem, it isn't.

“Homophobia is entrenched in football right up the executive level. Whether that's changed in 10 years I'm not sure, I think a football player would get as much grief as Justin Fashanu did to be honest.

“I think that's been observed by professionals who have only been perceived as homosexual.

“If it's a top-flight football player, and we know they're out there. John Amaechi (former NBA is came out) knows a number of players, (publicist) Max Clifford has openly stated he knows a player and advised him not to come out, so we know they're out there. But if a top-flight player came out, what it would do I think, would really challenge's people ideals and stereotypes about gay people.

“Gay people aren't always easy to identify. They don't always fit the mould and I think that's what we need from sports people is to be able to break that mould.

“I think the big thing with fans is they somehow see the presence of gay people in their game as a threat to their sport or their macho ideal and I think in time we can show the fans gay people like football and are involved in football and it should be celebrated.”

Ollerton says the campaign has received 'fantastic' support from the club, and rightly so. The Justin Campaign will also sponsor Fashanu's photo in the Canaries Hall of Fame.

And maybe, with enough support, their campaign will ensure the life and career of another gay footballer - at Norwich City or any other club - is not tarnished and destroyed by hatred and prejudice.

t For more on the Football v Homophobia initiative, go to www.justin campaign.co.uk

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