Tom English: Fashanu tragedy nuanced & complicated

THERE seems to be a narrative to stories involving footballers announcing that they are gay, albeit we have only had two since Justin Fashanu came out in 1990.

Justin Fashanu (R) in action for Airdrie in 1993. Picture: SNS
Justin Fashanu (R) in action for Airdrie in 1993. Picture: SNS

We have had Robbie Rogers and last week Thomas Hitzlsperger, both of them speaking brilliantly about their lives and the courage it took for them to speak candidly about their sexuality. Their words will undoubtedly help other gay footballers. Rogers led to Hitzlsperger who will lead to somebody else who will lead to somebody else until a footballer announcing that he is gay becomes less of a headline and more of a footnote, which is what it should be in the 21st century.

Fashanu gets mentioned and that’s understandable. He remains the only footballer who announced he was gay while still a professional in the UK. Over the years, a narrative has formed around Fashanu and it has to be questioned. Even last week it was written widely that Fashanu came out and that the misery he endured in the aftermath of going public led, eventually, to his tragic suicide in a derelict garage in London in 1998.

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That’s a desperate distortion of events, as is the commonly-held view that football shunned him after he spoke about his sexuality. His sexuality was box-office, if anything. By the time of his announcement, Fashanu was really a spent-force as a footballer, done in by a long series of injuries. Most players in his position would have struggled to find a club but that wasn’t the case with Fashanu. He fetched up at Leyton Orient and Torquay and Airdrie and Hearts and then played in Canada, America and New Zealand.

There is no doubting that he was subjected to homophobic abuse along the way, but the scale of it is highly debatable.

In Scotland, for instance, he became a cult hero in Airdrie. At Hearts the fans got on his back but mostly because they felt he wasn’t putting in the effort, not because he was gay. Six years ago I researched his time in Scotland and spoke to his former team-mates, former managers, journalists who met him and business people who dealt with him and all of them spoke of a hugely charming Walter Mitty-type character, a bloke with immense style but also a love of money that was obsessional. People liked him but people were also wary of him. Money was his driving force and he did some cruel things to gay men who were besotted with him in order to fund his lavish lifestyle.

The notion that he was driven to suicide in part by the reaction to him being gay has to be treated with caution. We can’t guess at such things, but at the time police in America were investigating Fashanu for an allegation of the rape of a 17-year-old boy. Fashanu was looking at 20 years in jail if he was found guilty. There was that but also his upbringing and the horror of it all, the suggestions that he was abused as a kid.

Fashanu’s story is enormously complicated. It has little relevance to Rogers or Hitzlsperger. When people write, as they have done, that it took courage for the American and the German to announce their sexuality “given what happened to Justin” then they should look into what really happened to Justin. It’s just far too easy to say that football turned its back on him. His tragic life story is more nuanced than that.

Rangers start to engage with supporters – via lawyers

NOT for the first time – or even the 51st – confusing and contradictory signals are coming out of Ibrox. One small example surrounds the supposed new spirit of openness that was promised at the club’s agm, a change of tack that would have seen the board reach out to the fans instead of ignoring them, which was precisely what they did in the entire build-up to the routing of the requisitioners just before Christmas.

The mantra coming from the top table was that the board needed to do more to engage with the fans and that they would do so. Graham Wallace, the chief executive, promised dialogue. So, too, did Dave Somers, the chairman. And how is that new spirit coming along? Er, not great, to be frank. You might remember the supporters’ group known as the Sons of Struth. Well-organised, articulate, focused and asking all the right questions.

Last week, their spokesman, Craig Houston, said that he’d received a letter from a lawyer representing Rangers board members ordering him to remove certain posts on their Facebook page. The lawyer was acting on behalf of the Easdale boys, Sandy and James, who, you get the feeling, would rather gouge out each other’s eyes than sit down and talk to supporters. The Sons of Struth feel that they had no choice but to close down their site for fear of legal action. So you’d have to say that the new communications policy, as trumpeted by Wallace and Somers, has a little way to go.

But there’s another thing that is a puzzler right now. Yesterday brought news that the club have employed a new financial guru to help get a handle on Rangers’ fiscal calamity. Enter Philip Nash, once of Liverpool and Arsenal, on a consultancy deal. In the week that the Rangers price sank ever further – 27p at close of business on Friday – Nash is being brought in on a consultancy basis. You have to ask the question, how many financial gurus do they need at Ibrox? In the face of supporter unrest, the board are only too quick to point out the apparently immense skills of Brian Stockbridge, the financial director. Wallace also has a background in accountancy. Ken Olverman also deals with finances. The Rangers solution to getting their costs in order is to employ another guy who tells them they need to get their costs in order.

Pound for pound, it’s Commons sense for Celtic

Aiden McGeady was yesterday unveiled as an Everton player, a move that has been mooted for some time.

As everybody in Scotland knows only too well, McGeady at his best is a terrific talent, a player who can light up a game with wondrous individual moments. It’s hard, though, to think of him without simultaneously thinking of the man that Celtic replaced him with in that creator-in-chief role, Kris Commons.

McGeady was sold for more than £9 million and Commons was purchased for £300,000. In terms of pound for pound value, that was as good a piece of business as has ever been done in Scottish football, for Commons has weighed in with half a century of goals in his time at Celtic and Lord only knows how many assists he has brought to the party. In his first half-season at Parkhead he scored in double figures, just as he has done in the first-half of the current season. Last season, double figures again. In three of his four seasons – or half a season – he has scored more than ten and closer to 20 goals. In all his years at Celtic, McGeady never hit double figures.

That’s not to denigrate McGeady, who was outstanding for his old club. It’s just to praise the guy who replaced him in that creative role. A guy purchased for a pittance.