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Tuesday, 07 February 2012

Outside the Box – Football on TV: Serious lessons to learn from Fashanu’s footballing family

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Sqf Chris Pettitt

I’m fairly certain we can all agree that football has its fair share of problems. If it is not the shady transfer dealings of murky agent types skulking around the bins at Tottenham’s training ground, it is the ignorant grunts of ill-informed morons as they boo a man purely for being the brother of someone who was courageous enough to stand up to racial abuse. And that’s not all; the bloated finances of our top clubs, the decaying standard of half-time entertainment, and of course Neil Warnock are all irksome glitches we should be trying to iron out of our game.

However, an issue that has existed in the shadows for many years was brought to the forefront last week when Amal Fashanu, daughter of Wimbledon legend John, and niece of this country’s only ever openly homosexual player Justin, presented BBC3’s Britain’s Gay Footballers. Now I know what you’re thinking … why the hell was I watching BBC3? Well I couldn’t quite believe it either, we are all keenly aware that vacuous excuse for a channel has never produced anything of any note, until now. Because this challenging, and at times fraught, documentary was an insightful and revealing peek into the archaic corners that still dwell in our national game.

It seems nonsensical to think that a population of football professionals numbering over five thousand would not include at least one gay man. Most boy bands are only four or five men strong yet boast at least one openly homosexual member; and in one particular pop group’s case, I’d say 100% of the male membership are gay – come on Dappy, we all know mate. But it is clear that whether there are one, two or fifty-two gay footballers currently playing, something is keeping them from being able to admit it publicly, an issue Amal was determined to get to the bottom of.

She predictably found this an arduous task, the footballing fraternity is not renowned for its delicacy when it comes to matters such as this and after weeks and presumably months of pursuing the views of our top professionals, the best she could muster was the Millwall squad and Joey Barton. Hardly the kind of champions you would wish for when attempting to break through such serious barriers. However we should give them credit, Barton particularly came out of the programme with huge acclaim, he spoke articulately and sensibly about his own familial experiences of homosexuality and expressed far more sense than he does during an average night on Twitter.

Despite the far-reaching issues Britain’s Gay Footballers was trying to address, it was actually the intimate drama of her own family’s tragic past that took prominence in Amal’s journey. It was impossible not to be moved as she slowly uncovered the truth about her uncle’s public fall from grace after coming out, and the part played by her father John in the subsequent days and months. It perhaps revealed more about the complexity of the unique situation the Fashanu family found themselves in at that time than the wider matter of gay footballers. Indeed John Fashanu, always a complicated character to grasp proved to be so once more; he is clearly scarred by the ordeal all those years ago and was perhaps understandably guarded over his thoughts and actions, even though it was his daughter asking the questions.

I came away from this excellent documentary hopeful. Hopeful that there is enough of a desire among the people that matter in football, the lawmakers and crucially the players, to ensure that there will be a time soon when the issue of sexual orientation will be inconsequential in the fevered world of football. For now, Amal Fashanu should be proud of her crusade, John Fashanu should be proud of his daughter and BBC3 should be proud of this programme – but not of the nine years of dirge that preceded it.

Talking of dirge at the BBC, Louise Redknapp was admirably proving once again just how much she has in common with her intellectually-challenged husband Jamie during Sunday snooze fest Something For The Weekend. Ex-Soccer AM host Tim Lovejoy routinely enjoys befuddling his co-host and this week he managed to make a joke about tax-dodging which she spectacularly failed to pick up on. To be fair though, he could have just said ‘your father-in-law Harry has been fiddling his accounts and could be in a great deal of trouble’, and Louise would still have stared vacantly back at him before letting out a joyful giggle and turning to that bald chef to ask for a piece of cake. They were made for each other weren’t they?

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