By Joe Cogan
As a fan of Blackpool FC, I have become accustomed to seeing my club receive its fair share of negative press over recent years.
However, the club has recently been placed under the spotlight of the nation for an entirely new matter. Striker Jake Daniels, just 17, made headlines by coming out as gay in an interview with Sky Sports. This makes Daniels the first professional player to be openly gay in England for nearly 32 years, having signed his first contract with Blackpool in February.
The last player to publicly announce his sexual orientation in England was Justin Fashanu in 1990. Fashanu’s story would ultimately end tragically after he committed suicide aged 37. In his suicide note, he wrote about his belief that his homosexuality would be used against him in an upcoming trial.
At the time, homosexuality was still criminalised in Maryland, where the alleged assault had taken place. Fashanu himself admitted his decision to reveal his sexuality in the press had negatively impacted his football career, receiving abuse on the field from players and supporters alike. The press typically ran fantastical stories of supposed affairs with other unnamed, closeted public figures.
Unfortunately, players who are open about their sexuality still face this level of abuse. In 2021 Australian Josh Cavallo came out in a video posted to Adelaide United’s Twitter account, becoming the only professional level player to openly do so until this week. In January, Cavallo was subjected to homophobic abuse from the stands whilst playing against Melbourne Victory, leading him to pen an emotional response. Social media has only increased the ability of vicious trolls to spread their hateful views.
English football and its relationship with hate is still under scrutiny after last summer’s Euros. Stars like Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford received torrents of racial abuse after their crucial penalty misses in the final.
Homophobia is also unfortunately still prevalent, with crude chants from the stands appearing regularly in the Premier League. A well-known one aimed toward those associated with Chelsea continues to divide fans.
Even at Blackpool, some sections of our fan base still find it acceptable to taunt visiting fans for ‘only coming (to Blackpool) for the gay bars’. Therefore, I believe Jake Daniel’s decision to reveal his true self to be remarkably brave.
The 2021/22 season has been Jake’s year. He was rewarded for scoring 30 goals in the u19s by being given a substitute appearance in the Seasiders’final day loss at Peterborough United, and recently signed a sponsorship deal with Adidas. A loan spell at Bamber Bridge has also shown his readiness to adapt to the men’s game.
Daniels’ choice shows confidence beyond his years; in doing so he has opened the floor to any other players who may be in the same situation and demonstrated the support that is there for them from the majority of the public.
What happens now is unknown, with no modern precedent to dictate the reaction that Daniels will face in the upcoming season, wherever he is plying his trade. With a loan move likely, Daniels will possibly encounter levels of football where players are not as separated from the voices of fans as they are in the Championship.
However, Daniels will know that he will have the full backing of everyone at Blackpool. A club on the up under new owner Simon Sadler, nothing demonstrates this best than their treatment of Daniels. In his interview with Sky, Daniels revealed the club has known for several months and has supported him in making sure his choice to come out was done under his terms.
Daniels also cited club captain Chris Maxwell as someone who has helped him, having asked questions, and helped make Daniels as comfortable as possible. As a young talent and a local lad, the vast majority of the fanbase will also make their support shown.
Ultimately, it has been a long time since English football was faced with news as big as this. The reaction towards Daniels’ revelation will also govern how long it is until we are faced with news like this again. In 2020, a Premier League player revealed he was gay but was scared of the reaction he would face.
Hopefully, the courageousness of young Daniels will provide a space where others are comfortable to live their true selves. As a Blackpool fan, I hope Daniels will eventually reach a level where he can recreate his youth form in the Championship and fire us to the Premier League again.
However, despite his professional career only being three months old, Daniels has already made a considerable impact upon the professional game, and one that all Blackpool fans, as well as every football fan in England, can celebrate as a massive step forward for our beautiful game.
Image: Paul Roots via Flickr