Not really, to be honest. My own inability to be able to control a ball was more prohibitive!
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.
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.
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.
These things happen gradually. It is better than it was, so let’s appreciate that however slowly we move, we are at least moving.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.