An international , a German international has come out of the closet and announced to the on looking media that he prefers the company of men in the sexual sense. Make no mistake this is no unimportant day for football that should just be overlooked and snubbed, it’s a huge day! Many will take one look and think ‘So what we are in the 21st century!” and move onto the opinion section of the Guardian, but it was a brave announcement that Thomas Hitzlsperger too make. Yes Robbie Rogers came out but this is different simply because of the numbers involved. Football in England has been haunted by the Fashanu suicide that has blighted anti homophobias cause ever since. Society has begun to adapt, but football does not represent society in its entirety. If you are in your mid-twenties and you were to sit in a pub discussing each-others relationships with a bunch of friends, if one happen to have a boyfriend rather than a girlfriend, no eyelid would be battered. Banter is different from bullying and banter is what will get rid of any taboo. Any player coming out should be prepared to be brave and carry but then anyone make that announcement would have to brave anyway.
Male bravado plays a huge part of football supporting on the terraces , the club doctor happens to be a woman so a cry “Off get your tits out for the lads!” and wolf whistles deafen out the other chanting. To be honest the line between bullying and banter is often wafer thin. As long as the men don’t go home to verbally abuse and then physically abuse their wives surely this is morally acceptable? For a would be gay footballer this is the reality that they will have to face and they will. For each player coming out it will be easier than the last. Hitzlsperger has been exceptionally brave and everyone should raise a glass. The reaction of fellow footballers has been encouraging Joey Barton has reacted in a mature manner not often associated with himself. But that the points real issues cause controversy then unite often fractured parts of a community. The next step for any player would be to follow in the footsteps of this former international and show real support. Football is in better shape than people think for the large part: racism is seen as been appalling, anti-Semitism no longer acceptable and hooliganism an insult to the intelligent of most supporters. Homophobia will go the same way if people in and out of football try to think of this in the right way, forget the past that is all the history books now and focus on the reaction.
There is no real need for education because the anti-Homophobia message is no longer as the younger generations simply don’t see sexuality as an issue and see it instead as a fact. Ironically as those generations get constant ticking offs from the generation above them, it is the above forties age bracket that have the growing up to do! Ignorance causes the most problems in society: an patronising attitude to those working in the Public Sector or an angry attitude to those seeking benefits for what they say is a living. You have start from the start and not from the end goal and you have to try and understand why it is people act that way. Homophobia is no different attitudes need shaking up and that the difficult part of the process but shouldn’t be regarded as impossible.
Often when talking to the middle aged generation and beyond, a brick wall has been built and the armoured guards seem as they are out for blood but this is just the ultimate defence mechanism. Education at grass roots levels –all for it- but this is not the time or place. So how do you educate the over forties that seemingly doesn’t want education? Rather than taking the easy option and saying you can’t, Gay players such as the former Aston Villa star should get lots of media attention. The pull of the media is often almost scary but if readers are persuaded to start reading an article on homophobia then the battle has been won. The second tool that should be deployed is one of making people of the ignorant anti -gay persuasion embarrassed. Middle Class dinner parties to become an anti-Homophobia hot bed- let’s hope so. For a certain generation, you can forgot about the internet it’s what they read in the Sunday Supplements that really count.
The fan is the boss, basic rules of capitalism have taught us that much. For all football fans out there it’s time to stand up and show the true person underneath all that male bravado nonsense. Chants tailor made for the support of the bravest of individuals facing what will be the toughest challenge of their lives should be invented. Time to hit the pubs, message boards and radio phones ins in a big way and wave good bye to the often unspoken issue of homophobia. You as a fee or non-feeing supporter to stand tall and raise these issues, if a certain Mr J Barton can then surely you can, can’t you?
The time has come to grow up but it’s the older ones who need to do so and quickly. Hitzlsperger has been incredibly courageous and the footballing world should now back him to the hilt, well done Thomas! As for next generation of Gay footballers- be prepared to make no apology for who you are and stand firm. Next stop is the pub , got to go and dish out relationship advice on one’s of my male friends boyfriend..