31 January 2012

"Fashanu... oh what a goal!"

There was an episode of Man About The House during the mid-1970s which revolved around a storyline of the trio's flat being riddled with woodworm. While George Roper's dodgy handyman mate Jerry closed off the flat and applied gallons of wood preserver, the three residents had to grab a few belongings and spend the night in the Ropers' flat downstairs.

The sleeping arrangements produced a small slab of comic confusion. Robin Tripp, whom Mildred Roper was infatuated with, had to share her bed - but with George. The two girls set up camp beds and Mildred herself was content with the sofa.

After a brief exchange between the two men about bedtime "bad habits", George chased Mildred into the hall for a quiet word. He started to express concerns about the prospects of Robin being "a bit, well, you know...".

Mildred's reply: "Well, even if he was - which he isn't - who'd fancy you?"

And last night, while watching the documentary on the continued suspicious attitude to homosexuality in football on BBC3, I thought about George Roper. In fact, whenever there is a debate on homosexuality in a wider context, I always think of that scene. And that's because someone rather, shall we charitably say, "old-fashioned", always makes the outrageous suggestion that gay men will fancy all men, and that's why there is no place for homosexuality in any communal sporting context.

I can cast aside the views of John McGovern, captain of Nottingham Forest when Justin Fashanu played there, as of his era and irrelevant. It's a pity too, as he was a successful assistant manager of Hull City just over a decade ago and now my view of him is permanently clouded. Fashanu remains the only footballer from these islands to come out, and after some shocking treatment from his family (including his younger brother John, at the time of the revelation an England international) and one or two lurid tabloid tales, the elder Fashanu hung himself. It was his niece, John's daughter, who headed last night's documentary.

Today's footballers are, like you and I, a generation that have seen the prejudices of our parents' and grandparents' generations dampened down by a surge from society. Maybe I'm offering them too much credit, and there will be exceptions, but I find it hard to believe that if any footballer, at any team, now declared he was gay, there would be any hostile reaction from his team-mates, or even his opponents. However, the supporters are a different matter entirely. Every club has a sizeable minority of truly awful people who will enjoy the moment and milk it for as long as they can.

When Justin Fashanu declared his homosexuality, his brother was playing for Wimbledon. Their next match was at Crystal Palace, and it was quite a game - it finished 4-3 to the home side. The goals were shown on Saint & Greavsie at the weekend, and there was one extraordinary moment when John Fashanu received the ball and immediately the Palace fans started, as one, to make camp, high-pitched Larry Grayson-esque noises. It was horrid. Fashanu's response was to chip the goalkeeper from 30 yards and silence the lamebrains completely, with the only noise audible as he raised his arms coming from the cheering Wimbledon fans in a corner.

Ultimately, I suspect we haven't moved on from there. Fashanu Major wasn't at an English club when he came out and so we have little anecdotal evidence of how football treated him upon his declaration. The next player to declare he is gay may be supported by the game but still catcalled by opposing fans. Fashanu Minor, guilty by association in the eyes of those vile Palace supporters, shut them up by scoring a stunning goal. Ultimately, all gay footballers will, like footballers who take stick for other reasons, only quieten down the idiots by doing their jobs well, until society has fully rid itself of those that see homosexuality as any kind of issue at all.