The campaign so far
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John Cross is a highly-respected and experienced sports journalist who currently writes for the Daily Mirror.
In December 2009 he wrote a piece on homophobia in football which highlighted the reluctance of the sport, from the terraces to the boardrooms, to seriously deal with the issue which continues to blight the beautiful game. He remains one of the few sports journalists to consistently address this unacceptable state of affairs.

You are one of the few sports journalists in this country to speak up on the issue of homophobia in football. What prompted you to become involved?

It's something I feel strongly about. Until people make themselves heard, then we can never change society. People will hide away. I refuse to believe that there are no gay professional footballers. Why? Because our sport has created a dangerous taboo.

Why do you consider tackling homophobia in football to be important?

Because football is part of society. Unless we break down barriers across the whole of society then we can't expect football to be exempt of such taboos. Can you imagine any other part of society with thousands of people working in the business without a single openly gay employee? Why is this? Because football has created a taboo.

You liase with the FA's Kick It Out campaign on this very issue. What kind of work have you done with the FA?

I've been interested to talk to Kick It Out on the back of an interview and a couple of stories I've done. They are terrific at tackling issues in football. But I was really disappointed that the FA dropped their video last year. Sometimes you need to be direct to target the right people.

Do you feel that the footballing authorities are doing enough to deal with the issue of homophobia in football? Indeed, is their heart really in the fight against homophobia?

No, not even close. It was so disappointing the FA withdrew their video campaign last year. I don't think it's on their radar.

You recently wrote a fantastic piece on homophobia in football which was published in the Mirror. What was the reaction to this piece from your fellow football journalists? Do you feel that there is an underlying homophobia within the sporting press?

Maybe a bit of gentle ribbing because, generally, football journalists aren't very forward thinking either, with a few exceptions.

The stigma around homosexuality and bisexuality in professional football is great. In your opinion has this situation been blown out of proportion? If a player were to 'come out' do you think their experience would be as bad as the media is making out?

Yes. 100 per cent. That saddens me greatly. But there is a taboo, the player - particularly if high profile - that would make 'coming out' front page news. It's big news when a pop star 'comes out' and it'd be bigger for a footballer as it would be such a rarity.

Not wanting you to name any names, but are you aware of individual professional footballers who are having to keep their homosexuality or bisexuality hidden?

To be honest, no. I don't like rumours like these. Someone mentioned a name to me, but that player is married with children, I know him and it was suggested to me that he's openly gay. He could be bisexual, but I doubt it. It certainly wasn't the lifestyle suggested to me. We've all heard the predictable names and they've been wrong. Those sort of rumours are so unhelpful and they're pathetic too. I've heard lots of names down the years but never, ever, with any proof.

Do you see things changing in the near future? For instance, do you think there will be an openly gay player in the Premier League within the next couple of years?

Only if they come from abroad. I think there is far more acceptance from the rest of Europe. Far more. I think that would be the only way to introduce the issue and then maybe - just maybe - other players would follow. But an English player coming out? No chance. There's too much of a stigma within football which is appalling.

A recent campaign in Australia witnessed high profile sports men speaking out against homophobia in football. The campaign in question was very low budget and consisted of professional players writing down their views on homophobia in football. The campaign has been hugely successful and has had a great impact despite costing next to nothing to produce. In your opinion, what do you think is stopping professional footballers in the UK making a similar statement?

I don't think there's anything stopping it. However, in my experience, Australians seem to be a bit more open minded! I wonder whether you'd find enough willing footballers in England. Again, it's about breaking the taboo.

Do you feel that stewards and police officers within grounds on match days are doing enough to single out those fans who are shouting homophobic abuse at players?

No. When Ashley Cole played for Chelsea at Arsenal, a man with his child sitting on his lap shouted homophobic abuse at him through the whole first half. At half time, I reported it to a nearby steward. He claimed he didn't hear anything. He must have been deaf! It was so clear, so offensive. That's typical of the wider attitude.

It is just over 12 years since Justin Fashanu tragically took his own life. Why has football been so slow to deal with this issue, considering the number of openly gay people in high-profile positions in the UK, in areas as diverse as politics, business, the media and the arts.

Because there's still this macho attitude within the sport, the lads together in the dressing room. The FA bottled it with the video last year. Kick It Out, in contrast, is doing good things and being proactive. After I did an interview about abuse with Sol Campbell more than a year ago, I was so impressed with their whole set-up and have been happy to talk to them, liaise and get involved whenever possible, not just on homophobia but on race and other taboos. How sad that the Leicester player, Wayne Brown, admitted to a multi-cultural dressing room that he'd voted BNP. That's his political right, of course. But it saddens me.

What impact on society would tackling homophobia in football have?

While homosexuality is a taboo in football, it makes some youngsters, some members of our next generation think there may be a problem with being gay. That, for me, is sad. Even if it filters down to schoolboy football, Sunday League, then it may have an impact on society.

How important are organisations such as The Justin Campaign in the fight against homophobia in the beautiful game?

Vital in breaking down the last taboos. Showing people that homophobia is wrong and that football is totally out of step with the rest of society. I wish the Campaign so much luck and success. It deserves and needs to succeed.


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