Earlier in the week, Blackpool FC player Jake Daniels came out as gay, becoming the first active professional player to come out publicly since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
In a confident statement, the 17-year-old said he felt “now is the right time” and was ready for people to get to know him. “I’ve known my whole life that I’m gay,” said the footballer. “I now feel like I’m ready to come out and be myself.”
The move, supported by the likes of Man United’s Gary Neville and David de Gea, comes after a successful season which saw Jake score more than 30 goals and make his professional debut in the Championship. Speaking on Monday’s announcement, Jake told Sky Sports: “I’ve been thinking for a long time about how I want to do it, when I want to do it. I know now is the time. I’m ready to be myself, to be free and to be confident in everything.
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“I can’t really date it, but I was probably five or six years old when I knew I was gay. So it’s been a long time since I’ve lived with the lie. At that age you don’t really think football and being gay don’t go together.”
Many LGBTQ+ people can identify with this. Village Manchester FC was founded in February 1996 and is now the oldest inclusive club in the world. The club prides itself on welcoming anyone who loves football.
For players like Kevin Robinson, a club like VMFC was a lifeline and a chance to show that you can be gay and play football. “I loved football from a young age and played football at school,” Kevin, 32, tells the Manchester Evening News.
“But when I came out at 16, I wasn’t really comfortable with it anymore and I stopped playing. I just didn’t feel like I fit into this very masculine environment, I didn’t feel like I could be myself.”
It’s only since lockdown that Kev has been able to rekindle his love for the “beautiful game” and take his passion seriously again. “I spent my whole 20s wishing I could play soccer, but it never really occurred to me that I could play soccer and be gay at the same time.
“I found out about Village Manchester and was amazed at how these two separate worlds coexisted. I realized that I can play football in a safe and inclusive environment and with people who just look like it. I jumped in and never looked back, really.
“It’s cliche, but joining Village Manchester was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It gave me so much purpose and focus and allowed me to fall in love with football again.
“Before I joined, I didn’t know a single gay football fan. Now I’m surrounded by LGBTQ+ football fans and players and it’s really helped expand my social circle with people like me. I went through a very long period of time feeling distant from the sport because I didn’t feel connected or included with it. Joining Village Manchester made me want to be more involved and felt more connected than ever.”
Kevin describes Jake’s coming out as a historic movement, not just for football in general, but for LGBTQ+ players and fans too – especially given how confident he was at such a young age. “I think his age is enormous,” he adds.
“Coming out at that age is absolutely terrifying in itself, but being born at just 17 is monumental. It shows that he’s obviously super brave and confident to do that, and I feel like it gives other people confidence that when he does that, it’s safe to do so. It shows he had such a large support network behind him that made him feel safe and welcome.”
Kevin, from Burnley, recalls his own situation at school when he felt his authentic self was at odds with his passion for football. He explains: “If someone like Jake had come out when I was struggling to find the balance between my identity and football, it would have been huge for me.
“The reaction from most people has been consistently fantastic. In a way, the reaction seems more important to me. It showed that there are so many positives and that being LGBTQ+ in football is okay and it doesn’t have to be a problem.”
When he came out, Jake said he was inspired by Adelaide United’s Josh Cavallo, the only current top-flight male professional footballer to come out as gay, as inspiration for his decision to speak out. Seeing the reaction to the Australian players’ news helped him feel confident and hopeful about making his own decision.
Kev says he expects Jake’s announcement to have a similar effect now too. “It shows that responding to it can have a huge impact and help make others feel safe,” he adds.
“I think it’s a big responsibility to be the first to come out because the focus will always be on you, but I think that’s just going to make it 10 times easier for the next person and so on. We’re going to get to a point where there’s very little focus because it’s just not a big deal anymore.
“Jake coming out is a big deal and it only helps normalize the fact that LGBTQ+ people can play football. I find it very positive that we have released two players in such a short time who have a long career ahead of them. Maybe it won’t be another 30 years before we see someone else confident about coming out.”
Likewise for Village Manchester FC chairman James Cole, he believes Jake has already impacted the future of football in a matter of days. “The fact that someone came out so young and felt like they’re going to be okay is just amazing,” says James. “It only took one person to open the door.
“20 years ago when I was in school I didn’t feel comfortable until two years after I dropped out, until then it’s like night and day in terms of general acceptance. The new generation is becoming increasingly progressive and the FA have worked really hard to reduce homophobia and racism in the game, but there is more work to be done.
“There will always be a vocal minority who react badly to it and cannot accept it. But a lot of work has been done behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for someone to come out and be supported in football. This is thanks not only to the FA and the clubs, but also to charities like Stonewall for doing such important work.”
When James joined the club eight years ago, Village Manchester was very different than it is today, he says, and it shows progress is being made both on and off the pitch. “When I started we had a team and a half and players had to double in games in the morning and in the evening,” he explains. “Now we have six teams, five of which are playing in the FA League next season.
“In an ideal world, clubs that cater specifically to gay (gamers) shouldn’t exist anymore, but there will always be a need for these kinds of clubs. There will always be gay and inclusive football clubs, but the idea that a truly talented footballer can advance without fear is what we’ve all been fighting for for so many years.
“Just having a general awareness that there are LGBTQ+ actors at the national level is a big deal. It’s inspiring to see.”
Village Manchester FC are looking for new players to join their team. Visit their website for more information.