‘A Culture of Silence: The Story of Football’s Battle With Homophobia

A Culture of Silence: The Story of Football's Battle With HomophobiaJason Mitchell is a freelance writer based in the North East of England. He writes about a variety of topics, including sport, film and American history. His articles have been featured on such websites as CaughtOffside.com, BornOffside.net, F1Planet.co.uk and HistoryInAnHour.com and he provided ghost-writing services for a number of businesses. Jason took time out of his busy schedule to chat to the Justin Campaign’s Hayley Paterson to discuss his first book ‘A Culture of Silence: The Story of Football’s Battle With Homophobia’.

What/who inspired you to write this book?

It’s a subject which has interested me for a few years now. That said, Justin Fashanu’s niece Amal’s BBC documentary on homophobia in football earlier this year was a big inspiration. Amal is obviously personally connected to the issue through her uncle’s experience in the game. I am a heterosexual male with no real connection to anyone in the game and yet I can see there is a problem with homophobia in football. I thought it would be interesting to discuss the subject from a more neutral point of view. I had read and heard several homophobic remarks from high-profile footballers over the years and I have personally witnessed homophobic abuse at football grounds, so those things inspired me. I was also inspired by an article I read from a journalist saying that supporters were the only reason there were no openly gay footballers in England. I felt like I wanted to show that the problem with homophobia in football is deep-rooted and goes far, far beyond supporters views alone.

Was there a particular moment in football when you did realise homophobia was apparent?

I was always aware of Justin Fashanu’s story and it’s the most important story there is when discussing homophobia in football. But Fashanu came out in the 1990s when the football landscape was generally quite different and I suppose society was quite different too. There are two moments in recent years which stand out for me and which told me that football hadn’t moved on at all when it comes to the subject of homosexality. The first was when a large number of Tottenham supporters subjected Sol Campbell to homophobic abuse and were arrested and charged by the police. The second was FIFA’s decision to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Sepp Blatter was asked about the problems it would cause to host the tournament in a country where homosexuality is illegal and he gave a flippant response. Yet, ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, FIFA went out of their way to change Brazil’s alcohol laws. It angered me that sponsorship deals and the sale of alcoholic drinks at matches was seemingly more important to FIFA than gay rights were.

What challenges did you face whilst putting the book together?

The biggest challenge for me was actually in narrowing down the amount of stories of homophobia in football that are covered in the book. This was surprisingly difficult. When you research homophobia in football beyond the United Kingdom alone, the sheer number of stories is staggering. It did, however, reassure me that writing the book was necessary.

Any surprising/interesting stories during your research?

One of the biggest surprises for me was the number of high-profile football managers who seem to have a real issue with homosexuality in football. Luiz Felipe Scolari, for instance, made comments a few years ago that he would kick a gay player off his team if he found out about his sexuality. That amazed me because Scolari is so widely respected in the game. Vlatko Markovic, president of the Croatian Football Federation, said: “As long as I’m president there will be no gay players. Thank goodness only healthy people play football,” in 2010. That shocked me and made me quite angry that someone with such views was able to express them with relatively little in the way of repercussions. He was still president until May this year, when he stood down. I was also surprised to really research Anton Hysen’s experiences in the game. The story that is often told is that Hysen, Europe’s only openly gay player, has been widely accepted in Sweden, because of the country’s liberal attitudes and the lack of mainstream media attention the league attracts. But actually, Hysen has received some pretty horrific homophobic abuse from supporters in Sweden. Additionally, although I was aware of Justin Fashanu’s story before writing the book, research into the small details of his life surprised me, especially in terms of the way he was treated by the likes of Brian Clough and his own brother John.

What have been your hopes for the book?

I would definitely like people to read the book and become more aware of the nature of the problem. When discussing the book with friends etc it became apparent that a lot of people are simply unaware that there’s a major problem with homophobia in football. The Justin Campaign, Amal Fashanu’s documentary and the Gay Footballers’ Support Network have gone some way to changing that, but there’s still a lot of ignorance surrounding the topic. There are a surprising amount of people who are absolutely adamant that there is no problem with homophobia in football. I would love for those people to read it and come out of the other side with the opposite view. And if someone reads the book and changes their own homophobic behaviour, well I guess that would be the ultimate pay-off.

How has the feedback been?

It’s been really positve. Those who have spoken to me about it were shocked by some of the stories, which I guess is the reaction I wanted people to have, because it highlights the shocking nature of the problem and the fact that it doesn’t attract enough mainstream press coverage. I have had a few people tell me they read the book despite not being big football fans, and they still found it to be an interesting read, so that was nice to hear. The only negative feedback I’ve had so far was from someone who, by his own admission, hadn’t read the book. He said I should “get over it” and accept that gay people will have problems integrating into the sport. Again, to be honest, he just made me even more sure that the book needed to be written.

Next steps?

I haven’t decided on my next step really. I don’t imagine I will write a follow-up book, although I may revise the current book over the years if other major stories develop. I imagine I will probably write further content about the subject for the websites I write for. I would like to think I will be more involved in any online discussion that springs up about the subject, as I’m not in a position where I have researched the topic enough to speak with some degree of authority. I think I will probably write other sports books in the future, but I have nothing in the pipeline yet.

Book information:

The Kindle edition of the book has been available since 29 July 2012. It is available around the world.

UK Link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008R0200S

International: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008R0200S

The paperback edition is available at: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Culture-Silence-Jason-Mitchell/dp/1291012109

Thanks to Hayley Patterson for this article.