At last, a professional footballer has come out: Anton Hysén, son of eighties mulleted Kop legend Glenn. OK, he plays in the fourth tier of Swedish football – unlikely to hear the siren call of Abramovich gold or to wear his country’s cap any time soon – but he’s a professional footballer, he’s out, and he’s proud. And it has to start somewhere. Well, start again – Justin Fashanu was first, twenty years ago.
Hysén emerges blinking into the rainbow just a few weeks after England cricketer Steven Davies. Both still young, eligible and non-munty, both hopefully with long careers to come, neither willing to sacrifice their personal happiness to the bigotry and intolerance of a dwindling minority of thugs and churchgoers.
The received wisdom is that Davies will have an easier time of it from spectators than Hysén. If your IQ is high enough to appreciate the rules and nuance of cricket, I suspect the theory goes, you won’t stampede to the exit in a froth of green-inked indignation whenever Davies adjusts his box.
Conversely, football is watched by walking tattoos: illiterate, innumerate, unthinking yobs judging sexuality by the chunkiness of a scarf’s knit and the heft of a fatty overhang.
Not true, of course. Gays watch and play football. Bigots watch and play cricket. The lazy stereotypes of the footballing thug and the TMS-addicted, bespectacled connoisseur of cricket are just as prevalent as that of the mincing, bitchy, promiscuous, diseased, cottaging queen. They exist: but are they the norm? Which way lies the trend?
It’s entirely possible that Hysén will receive no abuse from crowds, and that Davies will. Next time England play the West Indies in Jamaica, I virtually guarantee it.
However, just as we have the wisdom of crowds, we have the dumb predictability of crowds: past performance is a good indicator of future performance. The chances are that Hysén will receive more stick than Davies, though my hunch is that Swedish football crowds are more tolerant than English or Scottish ones – and vastly more tolerant than those of some other countries like Croatia or Russia.
I confess I am fascinated by how this will play out. How will the men themselves react to any grief they receive? How will their teammates and opponents respond? Or the stewards, or the police, or the rest of the crowd?
This is a social experiment being conducted in football for the first time in a generation, and in cricket for the first time ever. When rugby’s Gareth Thomas came out not long ago there was abuse from one crowd in one match – and the club and the authorities came down hard. Sadly there’s no guarantee that football and cricket would follow suit.
And Hysén’s experiences in tier four of Swedish football, whatever they are, might not transfer unchanged to the Emirates or Old Trafford, or even to Greenhous Meadow of League Two’s Shrewsbury Town, the rough equivalent of Hysén’s current club Utsiktens BK. Davies, though, is an international cricketer already and was part of the recent England tour of Australia. You can be sure that other gay footballers, other gay cricketers, and other gay people in other sports are watching this experiment with a wary eye. It could open the big gay floodgates, or bolt the closet door shut for another generation – or both.
Let’s assume that Hysén has the strength and character to play on despite any heckling and that Davies continues his Surrey and England careers untroubled by the vein-popping rage of Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells. What then?
Would an English or Scottish football club – in any division – buy Hysén? (Dear journos: please ask them. Any answer you get, even no answer – especially no answer – is illuminating.)
Will the tabloids – and the tabloidesque broadsheets – publish the standard falling-out-of-a-club-at-5am-shocka story, or the kiss-and-tell exclusive, and treat them identically to straight sportsmen?
And my favourite: what will happen when either man finds a boyfriend? This will be a story, make no mistake; while the men might wish for privacy the media is unlikely to allow it. Undoubtedly the Littlejohns and Widdecombes and Phillipses and Moirs and Greens will be temporarily defrosted from their 1970s lives to be intolerant for money, or to selectively quote a poor translation of an old book of short stories, or to spout the usual guff about soap’n’showers, marriage and paedophilia.
But this is news only while it is novel. Nobody remembers the second million-pound footballer.
So who’s next?