Local author Neil Beasley has published a book about his life in football, as both a gay fan and player.
Midlands Zone talks to him to find out more...
You’ve had a love for football since you were a child. What attracted you to the Beautiful Game?
In short, the excitement of it all. From playground bragging rights for the weekend’s winner to willing on the underdog in the FA Cup. Football is the nation’s most popular sport and brings people together. Also, nothing beats the feeling of starting classes again after scoring a hat trick on the school field at lunchtime!
What made you decide to write a book about your journey in football as both a gay player and fan?
There was nothing on the market from the everyday grassroots player and fan. I contacted a publisher, who loved the idea. After a few discussions, I signed the contract and we got started. I think we both saw a gap in the market for this type of story to be told.
Your book, Football’s Coming Out: Life As A Gay Fan And Player, chronicles your difficult journey in coming out to your teammates over a number of years. What would you say was the hardest moment for you?
Remembering the timeline of events to put in the book was pretty hard! No, probably the time between deciding to come out and actually doing it. There were a lot of different scenarios running around in my head about what might happen when I came out. In the end, nothing happened. No one cared! I worried what the friends who I’d known for years would think, as I’d basically been lying to them, pretending to like Kelly Brook just like they did!
You mention in your book that you’d experienced homophobia whilst watching a match - and again whilst playing in Europe. How did it make you feel at the time?
Angry. I was at Wembley for an England match with my family when a supporter behind me started insulting the players with homophobic abuse. I wanted to turn round and give him a piece of my mind, but instead I kept quiet and didn't challenge it. Playing in Europe I've also witnessed a bit. That bothers me less than the England game experience, as there's little I can really do about it.
Do you think homophobia on the terraces has reduced in recent years, or do you think there’s still a lot of it about?
There's still plenty of it about - the Brighton fans can confirm that. They get abuse every week. Unlike racism, homophobia is rarely challenged on the terraces. It's often passed off as ‘banter’, which in the football world means you can say whatever vile and disgusting comments you want to, as it’s ‘just a laugh’. The football authorities are guilty here, though, for doing very little.
What’s being done to kick homophobia out of football?
Not enough. There are plenty of organisations trying to do their bit, but there needs to be a more unified effort. The footballing authorities need to be firmer. The emergence of LGBT fan groups in the last few years has been a positive step.
Football v Homophobia is becoming quite a big movement, with some of the country’s biggest football clubs actively taking part. Why should clubs get involved?
During the month of action in February, you see quite a big take-up of clubs supporting the campaign. There seem to be fewer clubs taking part at the lower end of the footballing pyramid, but year on year the take-up seems to be increasing. I think it's a good opportunity for the clubs to show their support for their LGBT fans, of which there will be many!
You became a big part of Birmingham Blaze FC - the city’s gay football club - both as a player and as chairman. Were you proud of your achievements there?
Yes, extremely. I've lost count of all the things we've won. The biggest achievement was being the holders of a European gold medal at the same time as being national and regional champions. That's quite a feat, and it's unlikely any other LGBT sports team, Midlands or otherwise, will ever do that again. That's something I'm very proud of. I've also played at Villa Park three times. I like to mention that a lot as well!
What would you say to people thinking about joining a gay football team such as Birmingham Blaze?
Do it. We have a laugh, but we also take the sport seriously. What's the point of not taking sport seriously?! I've been to so many places that I wouldn't have been to without joining Blaze. The opportunities have been amazing. I've made some great friends through football, and that's been the biggest highlight.
You’re also a Coventry City FC fan. As a result, you founded the Coventry City LGBT Supporters group. Why is there a need for such a group in 2016?
Shush! I try not to mention that! That's a question that gets asked a lot. For me, it was about creating a link between the club and its LGBT fans - although that's easier said than done. It also gives you a chance to get in contact with other like-minded fans.
With regard to the professional game, do you think there’s a need for a top-flight professional footballer to come out?
I don't think there's a need unless they want to. It's a personal choice for everyone. If a player wanted to, they’d have so much they would need to consider, and that could potentially have a negative effect on their performance. When I decided to come out, that was all I could think about leading up to it. I can’t say it had a detrimental effect on my performances, though, as they were poor anyway!
People say it doesn’t matter if footballers are gay, straight, black or white, as long as they can kick a ball properly. Do you agree?
It shouldn't matter at all. Thankfully we’ve come an awful long way with racism, but unfortunately we haven't with sexuality. Football fans look for weaknesses to put off an opposition player, and to some, being gay is not compatible with the macho environment of football. They are, however, wrong!
What do you think of football agents who reportedly advise players not to come out, as it may ruin their career?
It may ruin their career and it may also have a negative impact on their life. It depends if the agents are looking after the welfare of the players or looking after their own interests. A player who takes some time out or isn't performing to the best of their ability isn't a very lucrative client, and that's a potential consequence of coming out. No one can know for sure until it actually happens.
You fell in love with football, and as a result, football led you to fall in love. Did you ever imagine you’d meet your husband through the game?
No, I didn't. I always thought I would marry Tom Daley or Chris Mears - and if I fell lucky, maybe a Hollywood A-lister! No, seriously, the moment I met him I fell for him. He's amazing and has the patience of a saint, which you definitely need when you're with me. I remember the first time we played for Blaze together, he tackled someone by doing some sort of Kung Fu kick. It was love at first sight!
Finally, have you got any plans to write any other books in the future?
There are lots of plans. I've had some interest regarding making documentaries and maybe a short film about the book. I’d like to revisit the book in 10 years’ time and write another on the same subject, to see how things have changed. Writing was fun - I’d like to have a go at a children's story next. Who knows!
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