Interview
One Game One Community
Mark Chapman (aka 'Chappers') is a sports presenter, journalist and BBC Radio 1 DJ. He has been writing, producing and broadcasting on sport since 1996, starting out as the Cricket Correspondent for BBC North East Radio before moving to BBC Radio 1, where he worked with Sara Cox on her Breakfast and Drive Time shows.
Mark recently presented a show called Inside Sport – Football's Last Taboo, taking an honest look at the problem of homophobia in football. Speaking to The Justin Campaign’s press officer Alan Duffy, Mark Chapman speaks openly about his experience of homophobia in football.

You recently made the BBC documentary “Inside Sport – Football's Last Taboo”, which looked at homophobia in football. What prompted you to make the programme?

A couple of things really. Working in the media for the past 10 years or so, homosexuality just isn't an issue so I couldn't understand why it still was in football but mainly because one of my best mates from school came out around 10 years ago. He loves his football and we would go to Old Trafford together. He really struggled with his sexuality. A lot of the female friends in our group were always sure he was gay, he loved Kylie, Stock, Aitken and Waterman and his flat was always spotless, but I always insisted he wasn't because he hadn't told me otherwise and I thought as a friend he would find it easy to tell me. He found it very hard to tell anybody and maybe it would have been easier for him to do that if a player we had been watching week in week out was openly gay. That's only a maybe though.

When making the documentary, did you find much resistance to the subject from within the game, such as professional footballers or managers who were not willing to speak about the issue on screen etc?

Yes there was a resistance, or maybe that should be a rudeness. However that isn't surprising in modern day football. There is a lot of rudeness when any request for an interview is made. Clarke Carlisle was the only straight footballer to agree to talk on camera and he was excellent and eloquent. Other requests were made, most weren't even returned. Contrast that with Brian Noble, Gareth Thomas' manager at Crusaders. He was happy to talk, he let us film the whole of the training session and we had access to whatever we wanted. It was like another world.

What have you learnt from making the documentary?

That's a very difficult one. I saw the odd comment from the gay community after the programme had gone out that it was the same old story, focusing on Justin Fashanu and that it hadn't spoken to anybody new. I don't agree with the last point, we did talk to some new people and I have already explained above the problems of getting new football people to talk. The reason Justin Fashanu was in the documentary was because over the course of making the programme I learnt that his story still dominates the subject of homosexuality in football. His is the name that is mentioned as soon as homosexuality is brought up. I thought we would have moved on, 20 years after he came out publicly, but it seems that we haven't. Some players playing the game now weren't even born when Fashanu came out, it's like an actor wondering whether to come out and then basing his decision on what happened to Rock Hudson.

Do you feel that there is an underlying homophobia within the sporting media?

That is a broad generalisation and a sweeping statement. I would have to say no. Is it a subject that some don't understand? Very probably. But that wouldn't be different to society in general would it? Sport and sporting media can be very blokey and can be very laddy. Equally there are some 'dinosaurs' around who might struggle to get their heads around a footballer being gay, but the majority wouldn't care. The sporting media are there to report on the sport not on the personal lives of athletes. In fact virtually all of the sporting media despise the intrusion into the personal lives of our sportsmen and women, that is something that the news and celebrity media have become obsessed with. A story on a sportsman that is run by the news arm of a media organisation can cause a lot of problems for the ones in the sport department.

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

I hope by answering this I don't sound like a Miss World contestant, but it would be nice for everybody to have the opportunity to be who they are without fear of who they are. There is an argument that if you are keeping a secret then you can't perform to the level you want to. So is there a gay footballer who if he was 'allowed' to be open about his sexuality would be a better player by 5 per cent? I am lucky in that I can be who I am, but I don't like the thought of footballers having to be like my mate, and covering up who they are and what they are doing because the football community just can't deal with the fact that they ar gay.

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 I don't think enough is being done. But equally I am not sure it is 'homophobia' that needs to be dealt with as such. I don't hear homophobic abuse at games. I genuinely don't, not like I used to hear racist abuse. The closest I get is 'get stuck in you big puff'. Over the course of the documentay some thought that abuse, others didn't. Once Gareth Thomas came out, he started getting abuse about taking it up the arse. So what we need to do is educate, so that when a footballer eventually comes out, they don't get abused. I admire what Kick It Out tried to do with their film, although I didn't necessarily agree with the tone of the advert, and they are determined to be at the forefront of this.

What do you think needs to be done, by the football authorities and everyone involved in the beautiful game, to improve the situation?

I think it needs everyone to grow up. Strangely enough gay men don't want to sleep with every man they come into contact with (well some of them do but not most of them!). It needs the younger people in these organisations to stand up to the middle aged men at the top of the game and to tell them to do more. It needs straight men to stand up for the gay community, to mix with the gay community. It was white men telling other white men to not shout racist abuse that helped us tackle racist abuse and now straight men need to do the same when it comes to homosexuality. I am not sure whether the gay community would welcome that last bit I have seen people who have made homophobic comments in the past completely change their tune when, say, they are at a wedding and on a table with gay couple. Again it comes down to education and for a lot of people with a phobia, the fear of the unknown.

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?

The media would be the biggest problem. It does my head in that fans and the abuse from the terraces are blamed as the main reason why a footballer hasn't come out. Yes, they would get stick, but these guys are used to being abused from the stands. Unpleasant as it is, they are trained to deal with it. The media use this excuse all the time. They also claim that a gay player would suffer comercially. They wouldn't in the slightest. The biggest problem for a player coming out would be media intrusion. Every single organisation would want to talk with them. News programmes would want to sit them on a settee and patronise them, tabloids would rake over their love life, the odd match report might contain innuendo, cameras would be outside their home, magazines would want to do 'at home' deals and I would be trying to do a follow up to my documentary with them. They would be in a media hell. As Clarke told me 'look at the reaction I got to 3 episodes of Countdown'. I genuinely think that it would be intolerable for the person involved for a quite a while. I took this doc to two other tv channels over the past 4 years before I did it with the BBC. Both the other channels wanted me to out somebody so they could get the story on the front page of the Sun and get better viewing figures and pr. I refused.

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?

Nope. And I don't think there HAS to be one. If it happens then great but the person who eventually comes out will need to be strong, will need to be a big name and will probably need to be nearer the end of their career. A 21 year old at Wigan who is just starting out in the game who come out would really struggle. An experienced player, who played international football and was at a big club would have less problems. My editor of the documentary is an Arsenal fan. He asked all his mates what they would think if Cesc Fabregas said he was gay. All of them said they wouldn't care. He is a great footballer, end of story. It needs to be a footballer of great stature who eventually does it, to make that breakthrough. But they should do it because they want to and feel it is right for them, not out of any duty to a cause or a desire to be a role model.

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?

As I say, I honestly have never heard it, so I couldn't comment on that.

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?

It has been slow because Justin killed himself. He didn't kill himself because he was gay though did he? There were other reasons. But so many people in football think he hanged himself because of his sexuality. That stops other people in the game coming out and because nobody else is out, the authorities don't think there is a problem.

What impact on society would tackling homophobia in football have?

As I said in the documentary, it is the last taboo. You have mentioned politics, religion, business etc as all having openly gay people in them. Other sports have openly gay athletes. Football sticks out like a sore thumb. It is the world's most popular sport. It can spread the word about so many issues because of its reach and popularity so to have a gay footballer would be a good thing obviously. But as I have said earlier a footballer coming out shouldn't think about these things. A gay footballer shouldn't be turned into some kind of Mother Theresa figure to solve all society's problems. That would be a very dangerous thing to assume.

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

Very. It isn't going to happen overnight is it? A lot of time, a lot of work and a lot of patience is needed and organisations like yourselves put all of that in. I do think there is a lot of mistrust between the gay and straight communties, in both directions, for various reasons. Organisations like yourselves need to bring both communites together so that we can just get on with playing and watching football without even caring where someone puts their nob!


Contact

Please contact Alan Duffy for enquiries.

Contact Alan