Justin Fashanu: 20 years on from the death of Britain's first openly gay footballer, has anything changed?

Justin Fashanu enjoyed the best years of his career at Norwich City. Credit: ITV News Anglia

It's a day that will live long in the memory of football fans.

May 2 1998 was the day that Justin Fashanu, Britain's first openly gay player, took his own life.

A talented striker who at one stage had the world at his feet, Fashanu spent much of his career dealing with racial and homophobic abuse - just because of who he was.

But 20 years on from his death, has football moved on at all?

I've been looking at his life and legacy, and seeing if we're starting to make any strides forward...

  • Justin's story

Justin, and younger brother John, were both brought up by foster parents in the small village of Shropham in Norfolk.

They were both apprentices at Norwich City and it wasn't long before Justin made his professional debut for the club in 1979.

He enjoyed the best years of his life at Carrow Road, scoring 40 goals in 103 appearances - including the 'Goal of the Season' against Liverpool in 1980.

That form saw him become the first £1 million black player when he was sold to Nottingham Forest in 1981, but instead of becoming the dream move he imagined it would be, it turned out to be a nightmare.

Fashanu never lived up to his potential at the club, and his relationship with manager Brian Clough quickly soured before he was transferred to rivals Notts County in 1982.

Fashanu came out as gay in 1990. Credit: The Sun

From that point on, Fashanu spent the rest of his career bouncing from club to club, and country to country - playing in America, Canada and New Zealand.

All that became something of a sideshow in 1990 though when Fashanu made front page news after revealing in 'The Sun' newspaper that he was gay - becoming the first openly homosexual footballer in the process.

His own brother John begged him to keep quiet - and even offered him £75,000 to do so.

However, Justin sold the story anyway, and spent the rest of his playing days being subjected to both racist and homophobic taunts.

He took his own life in an East London garage in 1998 after being accused of sexual assault in the U.S.

  • Has anything changed since Justin's death?

Thomas Hitzlsperger (left) and Robbie Rogers (right) have both come out in recent years. Credit: PA

There are currently no openly gay male footballers in England.

Ex-Aston Villa star Thomas Hitzlsperger and former Leeds United and Stevenage winger Robbie Rogers have both revealed their homosexuality in recent years - but only after retiring from playing (although in Rogers' case he did go on to play again in America for LA Galaxy).

However, Essex-born former England women's player Casey Stoney came out in 2014, while she was still playing for Arsenal Ladies.

These cases still remain the exception to the rule though, and the evidence still suggests that the problem remains - with a recent survey from Stonewall reporting that 72% of fans have heard homophobic abuse in stadiums.

  • Watch an extended interview with Amal Fashanu (John Fashanu's daughter)

To try and make football a game for everyone, the FA recently launched their 'For All' campaign which aims to make the sport fun and accessible for people of any sexuality, ethnicity, ability, disability, faith, gender or age.

"The FA have come out with a 'For All' branding which is there to demonstrate that football is very much for everyone," Norfolk FA Chief Executive Gavin Lemmon said.

"Hopefully those sort of things can continue to break down the barriers so people don't have that perception that there is any issues with that sort of thing in the game."

  • What's being done to change attitudes?

Proud Canaries FC will take part in a tournament at Carrow Road on May 5. Credit: ITV News Anglia

There has been progression in the last decade with LGBT supporter groups now being launched at some clubs.

In Norwich, they've gone a step further though, with the creation of a new LGBT friendly team.

The team, called 'Proud Canaries FC', were formed in December 2017 and are fully backed and supported by Norwich City and Aviva.

They are due to represent the club at an LGBT-inclusive tournament at Carrow Road on Saturday May 5 where they will take on teams from other LGBT affiliated supporter groups.

"The aim of it is to make football a safe and happy place for everyone to be," Nick O'Brien from Proud Canaries told ITV News Anglia.

"It's one thing clapping us as we go around the pitch, it's another thing that there's no outwardly gay footballer and we won't stop until that happens.

"It's our job to give that person as much support as we can when it does happen."