Interview
Matt Lucas
Comedy writer and performer Matt Lucas enjoyed massive success, together with his comedy partner David Walliams, with the smash hit series Little Britain. Matt’s other credits include Shooting Stars, Little Britian USA, Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland and his latest TV comedy show, Come Fly With Me. Matt is a lifelong Arsenal fan and been involved in a number of charity and media projects with the club.
In this interview with The Justin Campaign’s Director of Communications, Alan Duffy, Matt discusses his own experiences of homophobia in football, his optimism about the future of the issue, and his own lack of football skills.

Growing up, did you find the very heterosexual nature of sport in general and football in particular prohibitive in terms of you taking part?

Not really, to be honest. My own inability to be able to control a ball was more prohibitive!

Have you experienced much homophobic abuse at grounds, either aimed at you or at the players on the pitch?

I have experienced both, and from both home and away fans. It was hostile, but it came from a minority. And when I complained to the club about it, the complaint was taken very seriously and treated just as it would if I had been racially abused, which incidentally has also occurred.

Bad-taste songs and jokes about players and teams are an intrinsic part of the live football experience. But where do you think the line is between “playful banter” from football crowds and serious homophobic abuse?

I think Graeme Le Saux, even though he is not gay, used to be on the end of some pretty nasty verbal abuse, and Sol Campbell certainly has. I think the fans find fault in something else but then taunt a player about his sexuality to try and hurt them. When Sol Campbell left Spurs for Arsenal, some of the Spurs fans were so angry with him that they called him a ‘Judas cunt with HIV’. If you think that is just banter then you need to buy a new dictionary.

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?

We have to be realistic. When a massive mob of rival fans is accusing Arsene Wenger, without any foundation whatsoever, of being a paedophile, despite repeated pleas from their own manager for them to stop, there is not a whole lot the police can do. When it is a few individuals, they can more easily be identified. I think stewards and police are becoming more protective of the players, as was recently seen when Sol Campbell, again, was abused at Fratton Park by some Spurs fans, and they were subsequently fined and banned.

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?

These things happen gradually. It is better than it was, so let’s appreciate that however slowly we move, we are at least moving.

Do you think tackling homophobia in football can have an effect on wider society?

Of course. There was a time when it was acceptable to be racist and throw bananas at black players. It is still acceptable to abuse players suspected of being gay, or just to label a player as being gay in order to undermine and intimidate them, but that will eventually fade.

You are a passionate Arsenal fan. Do you think the big clubs could be doing more to both encourage LGBT fans and to publicly state their opposition to homophobia in football?

While gay players remain in the closet, there is little incentive for the clubs to do so, because homosexuality is pretty much invisible in the premiership, so why would it be seen as a concern to to address it. What I think will happen is that someone, at some point, in the closing stages of their career, will come out, and there will be a domino effect. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow, that’s for sure. I should say though that Man City recently made big noises to encourage LGBT fans, and that’s fantastic.

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?

It’s not easy to tell. I think it would depend on the player and the club. If an established Man Utd player, on the brink of retirement, say, chose to come out, it would be different to a young player at a smaller club.

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?

You are looking at a culture where it is very very difficult to become successful and even harder to maintain success. The game fears anything that might be perceived as a weakness. Like I say, I think what will happen is that a player will come out upon retirement first, and that might slowly open the doors.

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?

We have to give credit to the game, because it is moving towards more understanding of the difficult issues surrounding some players. Tony Adams’ Sporting Chances organisation helps sportsmen deal with addiction and depression and that has been a massive leap forward. I don’t think it will never be acceptable to be gay in football – we just have to keep lobbying and also be patient.


Contact

Please contact Alan Duffy for enquiries.

Contact Alan