LGBT History Month | Focus on Football – Justin Fashanu

Justin Fashanu

Justin Fashanu was an English footballer who became the first professional footballer to be openly gay. He was also the first Black player to command a £1 million transfer fee.

He made his league debut for Norwich City in 1979, making frequent appearances, scoring regularly & occasionally spectacularly. A 1980 goal against Liverpool won him Match of the Day’s Goal of the Season. He made 103 appearances for Norwich, scoring 40 goals.

After two seasons there, he signed for Nottingham Forrest in 1981, becoming the first Black footballer to attract a £1 million transfer fee. However, his career stalled as his professional relationship with Forrest manager Brian Clough deteriorated.

Fashanu’s goals & confidence dried up as he struggled to fit in with the playing & lifestyle demands of Clough. In the 81-82 season, Justin scored just three goals in 32 appearances.

After Clough discovered rumours of Justin’s frequent visits to gay bars, he barred Fashanu from training. After a short loan to Southampton, Fashanu was sold to rivals Notts County for just £150,000.

He never found the form he had at Norwich City, regularly moving between clubs in England, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand, Scotland & the USA until he retired in 1997.

In 1990, After being threatened with being outed by the press, Justin Fashanu came out as gay in an exclusive in The Sun. The revelations earned him a considerable sum of money, but he said he was offered even more by others who wanted him to stay closeted.

While Fashanu claimed that he was generally well accepted by his fellow players, they would often joke maliciously about him being gay. He also became the target of constant homophobic & racist crowd abuse. He admits that he wasn’t fully prepared for the backlash & his career in football suffered “heavy damage”.

In 1998, Fashanu fled to England after being questioned by police following an accusation of sexual assault by a 17-year-old in Maryland, a state where homosexual acts were illegal. Sadly, he died by suicide, stating he feared he wouldn’t get a fair trial because of his homosexuality.

No other active male English professional footballer would come out as gay until 2022.