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Is English football ready for a gay player? (image: Pixabay) Is English football ready for a gay player? (image: Pixabay)

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Is English football ready for a gay player?

Is English football ready for a gay player? (image: Pixabay)

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I spoke with David Mooney of the sports blog Football’s Coming Out to discuss sporting heroes, role models, and whether professional football in the UK is ready for a gay player to be open about their sexuality.

Have you always been interested in football?

I’ve loved football since I was a little child. My dad used to take me to Maine Road when I was a kid, and I was brought up going to Manchester City every other week, with a season ticket from the 1997–98 season. I was less interested in playing it at a young age, but by the time I got to the upper end of primary school I was a regular on the playground — just needed a little confidence.

These days, I can hold my own with the ball at my feet, I like to think I’m pretty good at spotting a pass even if I can’t always pull it off. Shooting has never been my forte, but I’m always happy to have a pop whenever the opportunity presents itself. When I play a little more competitively, though, I end up in goal — I developed a skill for five-a-side goalkeeping and throughout my 20s I was damn good on my day, even if I say so myself. I was able to not just react to where strikers were shooting, but anticipate where they’d attempt to score before they’d shot, just by reading their body language.

Sadly, with a bad back and with the folding of my old five-a-side team, I rarely get to play these days.

Who are some of your football heroes?

Playing in goal from a young age, they’re mainly goalkeepers and mainly from Manchester City. My first proper hero was Nicky Weaver — 1998–2007 at City — following his heroics in the penalty shoot-out at Wembley in the 1999 Division Two playoff final. On top of that, I’ve had the good fortune of interviewing him for a book I wrote on that team, and he’s a thoroughly lovely chap. For a while, Joe Hart was in that same bracket, but I sort of outgrew the notion of heroes by the time he was a City regular.

Why did you decide to establish the Football’s Coming Out blog?

I’ve been writing about football for a while, but there are few LGBT voices in the sport. The idea was to bring other voices about the sport from less mainstream areas to give different perspectives on the game.

What are some of your objectives with the Football’s Coming Out blog?

I’d like it to be a place where LGBT people who don’t feel like they’re represented in football can see that there are others like them, and also somewhere that offers a differing perspective on the same events. It’s important to have that, and I would have loved to have had something like it when I was younger.

Is football ready for gay players to be open about their sexuality?

Yes and no. I think the response to a gay player coming out would be largely predictable by supporters of opposing teams, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear homophobic abuse directed their way. I’ve heard some homophobic language at football in recent years, so I can fully understand why gay footballers don’t come out. There is definitely a problem with homophobia and gender roles in the sport, though I look to the like of Robbie Rogers as someone who successfully came out with the support of teammates. I’d like to see that in England.

What’s your view of FIFA deciding to hold the World Cup in countries such as Russia and Qatar?

It’s a shambles, isn’t it? Very serious questions need to be asked of places that discriminate on the basis of race or sexual orientation — tacit support from FIFA doesn’t really help.

How important is it for young gay guys to have role models in professional football?

I’m very interested to see the first openly gay player in England. I’d have loved someone to look up to when I was 15 years old, still closeted and wondering why I was both gay and into football. It seems daft looking back on it now — the two are obviously not a binary scale — but it’s the sort of daft thing you think as a teenager. Current LGBT teens with an interest in the sport need to see that they can be open and not hide a part of themselves away. But equally, if I was a footballer myself, would I come out now? I’m not sure.

Follow Football’s Coming Out on Twitter

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Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash
Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Are we living in a post-HIV world?
In recent years we’ve seen a seismic shift in the effectiveness of treatment for HIV, as well as the emergence of PrEP — medication that prevents you from acquiring HIV.

This combination of factors has contributed towards a dramatic change in the attitude of gay men towards HIV, health, and sex.

It’s been difficult for public health policy to keep up, but it’s also difficult for older gay men like me to get our heads around the changing landscape of sex.

Official reports indicate that AIDS has killed over 35 million people worldwide. It’s estimated that around the world there are currently over 37 million people living with HIV.

In June of 1981, when the beginnings of the HIV pandemic were first being identified, I was approaching my ninth birthday. Lucky I guess, too young to be impacted by the first devastating waves of the virus that killed so many young gay men.

As I was beginning to discover sex, the public health messages very strongly articulated that sex without a condom equalled death.

It’s a bit hard to describe how that constant fear of infection and death shapes your view and experience of sex. I guess I’ve got no way of knowing what things would have been like without that — I like to think that it might have been something like San Francisco in the 70s, or a long, lust-filled summer on Fire Island.

I survived. I was careful. I was lucky.

It wasn’t until I saw the 2003 documentary The Gift that I became aware of the fetishisation of HIV, and a growing movement of men who embraced the risk and health consequences of fucking without condoms, of letting guys cum in you, the thrill of raw, or ‘bareback’ sex between men. It was an uninhibited hedonism best captured by the porn of Paul Morris and Treasure Island Media.

It’s easy to judge and disapprove of risk-taking behaviour, but there was something incredibly compelling about this type of no-holds-barred sex — no fear, no care for consequences.

The improvements in medication and the emergence of PrEP have now made bareback sex the norm. Not only in porn — where it’s now highly unusual to see anyone using a condom — but also in everyday life.

Health professionals sensibly remind us that condoms are still worth wearing as they protect us from a whole range of sexually transmitted infections, not just HIV, but the reality is that for many men sex is better when you don’t have to wear a condom.

For me, it’s a bit of a mind-trip that testing positive for HIV is no longer a death-sentence, that you can have sex without a condom and not worry if one of you might have the virus. That you can have no-holds-barred sex, with no fear, and no care for consequences.

It’s fantastic that today’s young gay guys, who are just beginning to discover and explore sex, don’t have to worry about HIV. Obviously they need to learn about it, they need to have access to PrEP, and they need to understand the full gamut of sexual health, but it’s just part of life.

Let’s not forget our history, let’s not forget the people we’ve lost, but let’s be thankful that young guys today are growing up in a world that’s something a bit like San Francisco in the 70s, or a long, lust-filled summer on Fire Island.

We may now be living in a post-HIV world.

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