Today’s post is just a quick shout-out/big-up for Liam Davis, semi-pro footballer for Gainsborough Trinity.
Yesterday’s Non-League Paper (you need a subscription to see the story online, it seems), reporting on the grassroots and semi-pro football around the UK, ran an article about Davis’ decision to come out as gay. At 23, this is a big decision. As the NLP article notes, Thomas Hitzlsperger waited until after retiring to make his announcement.
Gay Star News carries the story with Davis’s comments:
‘At the age of 23 I like to think that I’ve got a good number of years left in the game and a lot of time to make a stand,’ Davis tells the Lincolnshire Echo newspaper.
‘It turned out they all knew from the first day I was at training,’ he says.
The NLP report offers comments from the Gainsborough Trinity manager, Steve Housham:
“In the long run, this could be a great thing for football. It’s going to offer the chance to let people react in a positive way, to prove there is no discrimination.”
“I’ve never met anyone with more strength,” Housham adds, “It’s hardly been a secret. I knew when I signed him from Brigg Town. I believe he runs a cafe with his partner, he’s never denied it.
“I have always prided myself on a strong dressing room. It’s above all else to me. I wouldn’t have players in my changing room that weren’t accepting of Liam, it’s as simple as that.”
“Liam needs that extra bit of protection, and that’s what we’ll give him. The club, his team-mates and myself. We’ll fight his corner and support him every step of the way.”
Of course, Housham is mistaken to say there is no discrimination, and his own remarks would indicate he knows that really (why would Liam need extra protection, if there were no discrimination?) The significance, and positive effect, is likely to be slightly different.
Twenty years ago or so, there was a storyline in Grange Hill about a teacher at the school being outed as gay. The scene that I remember most vividly from that storyline was this: at a football match against a rival school, the gay teacher was one of the escorting adults for the team. The rival team taunted the Grange Hill team by calling him a poof. “Yeah, but he’s our poof!” retorted the hard-lad captain of the Grange Hill team.
It seems to me that the story presented in the NLP and the Gay Star articles is similar, in that what Davis’s coming out shows is that, while there may be discrimination and prejudice still from some angles, what has changed is that we can see a gay footballer can be accepted as a part of a team, and that first and foremost in his team-mates’ minds will be standing up against abuse aimed at him, rather than trying to police his masculinity and sexuality.
This is a long way from ending homophobia in football, but it’s a significant step along that road. As Liam Davis says:
‘I personally hope that over the next 10 years I’m not the only gay footballer out there,’ he adds. ‘Nobody wants to be forced out, but I hope they can look and see there is someone out there who has done it. I hope we can get to a stage where it is not a bad thing, that there is no problem and people just get on with it.’