Matt Jarvis: 'It's time to tackle the last taboo'
West Ham United winger Matt Jarvis has become only the third footballer to feature on the cover of the UK’s bestselling gay magazine in an effort to break one of the game’s biggest remaining taboos.
The footballer, who is married, follows David Beckham, who appeared on the cover of Attitude in 2002, and Freddie Ljungberg in 2006. The magazine has been published since 1994.
In an interview, the winger said it was time that a gay footballer felt comfortable enough to come out. “It’s everyday life. It’s not something that’s going to be a shock,” he said. “I’m sure there are many footballers who are gay, but when they decide to actually come out and say it, it is a different story. It’s one that I’m sure they’ve thought about many times. But it’s a hard thing for them to do.”
In 1990 Justin Fashanu – the first black £1m footballer, who played for Norwich, Nottingham Forest and Hearts – suffered extended abuse after coming out. He killed himself eight years later.
The only footballer to come out since is Anton Hysen, a player in the Swedish lower leagues.
Asked about Clare Balding’s recent comments that being out could help a sportsperson’s performance, Jarvis said: “I’d agree with that. Because you’ve always got something you’re worried about at the back of your mind. If you can let that go and then just concentrate on your one goal, which is whichever sport you’re doing to the best of your ability, I think that would help. Definitely.”
Jarvis told Attitude that he thought times had changed and an openly gay footballer would receive the support he needed. “There’d be support everywhere within the football community, whether it be players, fans or within the PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association]. There would definitely be groups of people who would be supportive and help them through it,” he said.
Homophobia in football remains a stubborn problem, said Alice Ashworth, policy officer at Stonewall. “Our polling has found that one in four football fans think it is an anti-gay sport, while seven in 10 fans had heard homophobic abuse on the terraces. There is still a culture in the game that means being gay is not tolerated in the same way as it is in other professions and society at large,” she said. The charity works closely with the FA and the PFA following YouGov research in 2009 in which half of respondents felt key football organisations were not doing enough.
Matthew Todd, the editor of Attitude, said it was time football started tackling homophobia in the same way it addressed racism. “It’s ridiculous that there are no openly gay players in professional football,” he said. “There’s rightly been a focus on ridding the beautiful game of racism, but there doesn’t seem to be much effort to tackle homophobia. We know there are gay players – and fans who support the game religiously – so I hope this starts a discussion and is a small step in the right direction.”