Justin Fashanu, who in 1990 became the first English professional footballer to reveal he was gay, will be honoured on Wednesday by being inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame.
Fashanu will be honoured on what would have been his 59th birthday — he hanged himself in May 1998 — an occasion also marked by a reminder from Manchester United that homophobia still exists in football.
United issued a statement Wednesday lambasting a section of its own Old Trafford fans for homophobic chants during Monday’s Premier League match with Chelsea.
Anti-gay chants “directed against Chelsea FC — or any other club — by some of our fans runs counter to our values,” read the statement from United.
“We were the first club to sign up to the TeamPride coalition and continue to collaborate with Stonewall and other anti-discriminatory organisations in this area.”
Fashanu’s niece Amal, who recalls all too well her uncle’s tragic death when she was aged nine, will accept the award in Manchester.
Fashanu had a sublime talent and a penchant for scoring spectacular goals — one for Norwich against Liverpool in February 1980 was voted goal of the season.
Such goals earned him a one million pound move to Nottingham Forest in 1981 — the first black player in British football to break that barrier — but he failed to click with the manager Brian Clough.
For Amal — who through the Justin Fashanu Foundation combats homophobia, racism and mental health problems in football — the award is long overdue.
“It is something quite important that is happening,” she told the Daily Mirror.
“It’s just like ‘wow’, he’s finally getting recognised and it is very, very impressive.
“People forget just how talented he was at football because he was gay.
“I was there at the museum four years ago and in my mind, I know this is bad, I was thinking, ‘Why isn’t Justin here?’
“It is a big move and a big step because they are recognising Justin on a whole new level now.”
‘Throw flowers at you’
Amal says there is still no appetite for her friends who play football and are gay to come out publicly.
“It would have to be a tough footballer. He would have to have a thick skin,” she said.
“It is still great, but I can’t lie and say it will be a rosy path and they are going to throw flowers at you.”
One person who found Fashanu’s coming out difficult to handle at the time was his younger brother John, Amal’s father, who accused Justin of being an “attention seeker”.
John — a muscular striker who was part of the ‘Crazy Gang’ Wimbledon side which stunned Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final — has changed his views and is now a trustee of the foundation.
“He (John) is championing the fact that there needs to be a change and we need to do it together to honour Justin,” said Amal.
© Agence France-Presse