A top former England international football player and now TV pundit says that he thinks players would now accept a gay teammate in the changing room.
Popular former player and manager Gareth Southgate claims the real problem might well be the fans on the terraces that may not be quite as open, tolerant and welcoming to gay players not the sportsmen themselves.
Speaking with BBC Sport, Southgate said: ‘I’m sure there might be some reaction from crowds, but within dressing rooms I think it would be accepted.’
There has been a surprising amount of rather high-profile male and female athletes and sportspeople choosing to come out and be open in public with their sexuality, such as professional boxing’s Orlando Cruz, Rugby’s Gareth Thomas not to mention many of the British Olympic Team. However, there has not been a single top flight British footballer to come out since Justin Fashanu back in 1990.
Gareth Southgate who used to live in Northgate in Crawley made the comments in reaction to Manchester United’s goalkeeper, Anders Lindegaard saying ‘homosexuals are in need of a hero’. Lindegaard said the attitude of fans doesn’t encourage gay players to be open about their sexuality. “They are in need of someone who dares to stand up for their sexuality. But homosexuality in football is a taboo subject and the atmosphere on the pitch and in the stands is tough.” he said. “The problem for me is that a lot of football fans are stuck in a time of intolerance that does not deserve to be compared with modern society’s development in the last decades. While the rest of the world has been more liberal, civilised and less prejudiced, the world of football remains stuck in the past when it comes to tolerance.”
“It will take someone who is brave enough to be open and honest,” said the ex-England international, Southgate who was a key fixture of the line up of the national squad from 1995 to 2004. He added “Players mix with players of different nationalities, races and religions so I don’t see it being an issue in the dressing room. We can’t control the reaction of all supporters, so unfortunately there will always be an adverse reaction to parts of society. But the honest answer is that we don’t know until somebody steps forward.”
Homophobia is still regarded as one of the biggest problems in the modern UK football industry, despite various campaigns to ‘Kick Homophobia Out’ of the sport.