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Justin Fashanu – the first openly gay male professional footballer

Updated: Feb 27, 2023


Justinus Soni ‘Justin’ Fashanu was born on the 19 February 1961 and was the son of a Nigerian barrister living in the UK and a Guyanese nurse called Pearl.


He and his younger brother John Fashanu were placed into a Barnardo’s children’s home when their parents split up. When Justin was six, he and his brother were fostered by a couple called Alf and Betty Jackson and were brought up in Shopham, Norfolk.


Justin excelled at boxing as a youth and for a time considered becoming a boxer before turning his attention to footballing.


He was spotted by a Norwich City football club scout whilst playing in a school football match in 1974.


Soon after, Fashanu joined the Norwich City football academy and turned professional in December 1978. He made his league debut on 13 January 1979, against West Bromwich Albion, and became a regular fixture of the team.


In 1980, he won the BBC Goal of the Season award, for a spectacular goal against Liverpool that has been described by football pundits as one of the greatest goals ever scored at Norwich City.


He managed a total of 103 senior appearances for Norwich, scoring 40 goals. While at the club Fashanu was capped six times for the under-21 England team, scoring five goals in eleven games.


In August 1981, he signed for Nottingham Forest, becoming Britain’s first £1 million Black footballer.


But he struggled to replicate his form at the club, partly because of the strained relationship with Nottingham Forest manager Brian Cough over his sexuality and lifestyle. Clough barred him from training with his teammates after learning of Justin’s homosexuality.


Fashanu was frozen out of the first team and sent on loan to Southampton. He was eventually sold to Nottingham Forest’s rivals Notts County for just £100,000.


Justin went on to play for a variety of clubs until retiring from the game in 1997.


In October 1990, fearing that he was about to be outed by a national newspaper, Justin Fashanu came out as gay via an interview with the tabloid newspaper The Sun. In doing so, he became the first openly gay professional footballer in the UK until Jake Daniels in 2022 (yes, that long!).


Although Fashanu claimed that he was generally well accepted by his fellow players, he freely admitted that they would often joke maliciously about his sexual orientation, and he also became the target of constant crowd abuse because of it.


Justin committed suicide in May 1998.


In 2017, Netflix released a film about him called ‘Forbidden Games: The Justin Fashanu Story’ and was inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2020.


His legacy lives on through the work of LGBT+ campaigners, the Justin Campaign and The Justin Fashanu Foundation, founded by his niece Amal Fashanu.


Sources:







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