Scottish referees Craig Napier and Lloyd Wilson come out as gay in bid to help 'change culture' in football

Two of Scotland's top referees are hoping to help change perceptions in football after becoming the first officials in the country to announce that they are gay.

Craig Napier, a category one whistler who has taken charge of several Premiership fixtures, and Lloyd Wilson, an up and coming referee with mainly lower league experience, say they took the landmark decision to make their sexuality public in order to help others in the same position.

The duo were inspired to speak out following the decision of Blackpool footballer Jake Daniels to publicly come out as the UK's only openly gay active male professional footballer last month, following on from Australian Josh Cavallo last year.

Speaking to the Scottish FA, 32-year-old Napier said: "It's something that I never thought I'd be sitting here doing. It's something I've lived with for a long time. It's been a difficult journey to get to this point but over the last couple of years it's become a lot easier. It's really important that people like me are willing to do this.

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"I don't think this needs to be a news story but at the moment it really does because we need to see the climate change so that people do feel they can be their true self and live happily and comfortably in their own skin. That then needs to transcend into football.

"It's been really inspiring to see what's happened recently. Josh Cavallo first of all and then Jake Daniels more recently. It's positive to see Jake at the age of 17 announcing to everyone his sexuality and many people will take inspiration from that. But they might also think I'm not sure I'm brave enough to take that step. What if my firends don't accept me? What if my family reject my sexuality? What I wanted to add to the conversation was that I've never had a bad experience when I've had these conversations. I've always felt so much lighter after speaking about it.

"Ths isn't a conversation about me. This is a conversation about trying to change the culture in Scottish football. I can't go back and change the decisions I've made to get me to this point, I've been on my journey. But what I feel I can take from that, is to pass onto other people, don't make those same mistakes, and don't waste time that you can spend with other people and live your life.

"It's not something you can change or something that's worth hiding. It's a lot of wasted energy worrying about whether you are going to lose friends over it, whether you're going to not get promoted within refereeing because of it, whether you're not going to get selected for the first team because of it.

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Scottish top flight referee Craig Napier has announced that he is gay. (Photo by Sammy Turner / SNS Group)

"I think people would be better served enjoying their life and living as their true self, and that's the message I want people to take away from this conversation."

Napier believes that football still has a lot to do to break down barriers and address the “stigma” attached to sexuality compared to other sports and industries.

He added: “I remember reading the newspapers when Tom Daly came out and I was so inspired but not inspired enough where I felt confident enough that I could then come out because I thought ‘diving isn’t the same as football’.

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“There is something about football at the moment. There’s still that barrier.

Lloyd Wilson has joined fellow category one referee Craig Napier in coming out as gay.

“I’m involved in lots of spheres in life whether it be social, whether it be at my work in the NHS, whether it be at university where I also work and I’m entirely comfortable.

Football is different and I think that’s why these conversations are important because we need to change that culture. There are no footballers on the pitch that are open but they are there.

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“And until we have these conversations and have these role models on the pitch, there will be that stigma, that fear and that’s what we need to change and I hope that we can do that by having these conversations.”

Wilson revealed that he had endured “dark days” and admitted he was “petrified” about making his sexuality public.

"This has been a horrific journey to be honest," the 31-year-old told Back Onside. "A journey of maybe about 17 years of living a life that I didn't want to live, living a lie.

"Living the way that other people wanted me to live, or that I thought other people wanted me to live. Probably directed and dictated in many ways by football.

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"The biggest worry for me was being judged differently from my colleagues who are not gay.

"I suppose being judged by fans for who I am off the field rather than who I am on it.

"At the end of the day I am a referee. I will get things right and I will get many things wrong, we all do because it's the nature of the job.

"But I want to be judged for the decisions I make on the pitch and not those that I make off.

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"I feel doing this interview, that I must say I am petrified about, is absolutely crucial for not just my colleagues, but also my colleagues who are players and suffering this same battle and journey that I have suffered."

Wilson, who has served as a fourth official in the Premiership, is hopeful that football fans in Scotland will understand and support his decision.

He added: "We can't normalise this yet because we need those in the game, supporting the game to normalise it. However, I am confident that fans in Scotland will.

“I am not naive enough to sit here today and think there might not be a comment made towards me in my first game back whenever that may be.

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“But I think if you compare the environment to when Justin Fashanu came to Scotland in 1990 the culture is far more fit for purpose. People are becoming more understanding and starting to say, 'why is this a news story?'

“So if I or others were to be homophobically abused…I think the stronger personalities and the people who don't agree with that in Scottish football will call it out.”

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