LGBTQ Rep in Men’s Football
by Charlie Novak
I’m an accidental football fan – I never really intended to become a supporter, but I fell into being one nearly thirteen years ago when I met my husband in high school. It was almost impossible to avoid the sport! But it has always surprised me that there are very few openly LGBTQ+ players in men’s football. Football itself can be a fabulous game, and create great communities, and while a lot of UK clubs have LGBTQ+ fan associations there are currently no openly LGBTQ+ players in the English Premier League. It seems odd, especially when you look at the women’s game and see openly LGBTQ+ players throughout the sport; coaching top teams and winning world cups.
When I started plotting Breakaway, I knew I wanted to explore that lack of representation a little more, and consider why someone might be afraid to come out. In this novel, Christian is under a lot of pressure to be the best and he’s afraid that his football career will end if he comes out. He’s also worried about how the media and fans will react, and how it would put him under an intense spotlight and that suddenly, every conversation will be related to his sexuality – whether it’s relevant or not! Especially since being the first openly LGBTQ+ player would automatically bring a higher level of intrusion, scrutiny and pressure. Not to mention the fact that there would probably be some backlash from loud, bigoted voices in the media and online. I’d like to think that in 2019, it wouldn’t have to be a big issue, but sadly that’s probably not the case.
It’s a question that Christian has to struggle with throughout the novel – can he be both a footballing legend and openly gay man? Will he have to hide part of himself away in order to pursue his sporting ambitions? And can he bring himself to come out and risk the scrutiny?
Christian also has to deal with feelings of isolation, worrying that he can’t talk to anyone from the footballing world, just in case something happens or that person reacts negatively. Despite his family saying one thing, he finds it hard to accept that the people who have control over his career will be as understanding.
When we combine all these factors, it’s a perfect storm of reasons why a player may be unwilling to come out. Playing at a top level is hard enough, without the added pressure and intense scrutiny that comes from being in the spotlight. But I’d like to think that it will happen soon – I know I’d be cheering them on and supporting them at every turn, regardless of what club they played for.
I want us to live in a world where your gender and sexuality have no impact on what sport you play – to me, it shouldn’t be an issue whether a player is LGBTQ+ or not, and it saddens me to think that to some people, it’s still a big deal.
This is a complex issue, and this story is only one way to frame the conversation. But I did want to imagine this story having a happy ending, so I could give Christian the love he truly deserves. Breakaway is ultimately the story of recognising your fears and overcoming them – facing them down for the chance to be loved, and the chance to be happy.
After all, isn’t that what we all want? And isn’t it something we all deserve?