View from the terraces

Jake Daniels comes out as gay: reactions to a landmark moment for British football

Blackpool forward, 17, is the UK’s only openly gay male professional footballer

Blackpool’s Jake Daniels has become the UK’s first male professional footballer to come out as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990. The 17-year-old has been widely praised for telling his story and he believes that now is “the right time to do it”. 

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports yesterday, the forward said that he wanted people “to know the real me” and he just doesn’t “want to lie anymore”. He added: “Everything has happened at once but it feels right. Now it’s out, and people know. Now I can just live my life how I want to and you know what? It’s been incredible.” 

Daniels signed a professional contract with the EFL Championship club in February and made his first-team debut as a substitute against Peterborough United on 7 May. He thanked Blackpool for being “absolutely amazing” and his teammates for their support. “They’ve been asking tons of questions, they have all been intrigued and their reaction has been brilliant,” he said. “It’s the best thing I could have asked for.”

‘A fresh age of enlightenment’

The idea that a footballer’s sexuality should be “newsworthy” in 2022 will seem “bizarre” to most people, said Jack Murley, presenter of the BBC’s LGBT Sport Podcast. But Daniels’s decision to speak publicly about the fact he’s gay is “a watershed moment, both for him personally and for British football as a whole”.

You might hope “the stage had been reached” where a gay footballer did not have to be saluted for his courage in coming out, said Oliver Brown in The Daily Telegraph. The impact of Daniels’s announcement “should scarcely be underestimated”, however, and it can “usher the grisly world of football into a fresh age of enlightenment”. Football’s “dam wall of entrenched homophobia” could soon be breached. 

Football is “ready for this moment” and “we believe it has been for some time”, said Liz Ward, director of programmes at LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall. But while attempts have been made with “increasingly positive results” to make football a more inclusive and accepting environment, there are still “horrifically outdated views that need to be eradicated from the modern game”, said Jude Summerfield on 90min.

Just last weekend, Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Idrissa Gueye missed the match against Montpellier after refusing to wear a shirt that had his number in rainbow colours, the Daily Mail reported. Players across France wore the special shirts in an “expression of solidarity” to mark today’s International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia.

Cavallo is an inspiration 

The teenager said he was inspired to come out by the likes of Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo and British Olympic diver Tom Daley. When he came out publicly in October last year, at that point Australian Cavallo was the world’s only out gay male top-level professional footballer, said Attitude. In reaction to yesterday’s announcement, Cavallo said it was a “wonderful feeling” knowing that his story helped guide Daniels “to be his true self”. 

Gerard Piqué, Raphaël Varane and Marcus Rashford congratulated Cavallo last year, and “there was no shortage of big names lining up to praise Daniels” yesterday, said The Guardian. David de Gea, Gary Lineker and Rio Ferdinand were among those to offer support to the promising striker while England captain Harry Kane said “massive credit” must be given to the player and the way his friends, family, club, and captain have supported him. “Football should be welcoming for everyone.”

Incredible courage 

In a tweet, Boris Johnson thanked Daniels for his bravery and for taking the “huge courage” to come out. “You will be an inspiration to many both on and off the pitch,” the prime minister said.  

Former England defender and now pundit Gary Neville believes Daniels’s decision will go down in history as an important day for English football, Sky Sports reported. Neville said he was “incredibly proud” to see a 17-year-old do an interview of that level of quality. “What he has just done took incredible courage,” he added. “We have been in dressing rooms for many, many years and that would seem like the unthinkable to announce that you are gay. I can’t imagine how difficult that has been.”

Actor and TV presenter Matt Lucas said it wasn’t just an important moment in British football, but also a “landmark day” in British LGBT history. 

A turning point?

Britain’s first £1m black player, Justin Fashanu, was also the first professional footballer to come out as gay in 1990. In 1998, at the age of 38, the ex-Norwich City star took his own life. The Justin Fashanu Foundation said “issues around his sexuality were at the heart of his problems and there is no question that the prejudice he encountered eventually led to his death”.

In September 2020, a gay Premier League footballer revealed that he was too scared to publicly come out because he felt that football has not “moved on” compared to the rest of society. Amal Fashanu, founder of her uncle’s foundation, hopes Daniels’s coming out will mark a “turning point” and that other footballers, “who wish to do so”, feel that they can talk “more openly about the life they lead off the field”. 

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