The football world has united behind 17-year-old Jake Daniels, the first professional in the English game to come out since Nottingham Forest’s Justin Fashanu took the plunge more than 30 years ago (and that was as a result of some despicable hounding by the tabloids). Things ended very badly for Fashanu who, eight years after revealing his sexuality, committed suicide.
Thankfully, the world is a very different place today, but it has still taken 32 years for a gay footballer to find the courage to be open about his sexuality, leaving men’s professional football in England lagging way behind the women’s game. And in an industry of seasoned, hardened professionals, the man who has stepped up to the plate and stuck his head above the parapet is a 17-year-old who only made his first-team debut – for Blackpool FC in the English Championship – last week.
If Daniels had had any fears about how his revelation would be received by the wider footballing world, they seem to have been unfounded. Football royalty has united in support and praise for the brave young man (actually, at 17, still legally a boy) whose name will surely go down in history as a trailblazer for the LGBTQ+ community.
Plaudits were led by BBC Match of the Day host Gary Lineker, the former Tottenham, Barcelona and England forward, who wrote, “It’s been a brilliant season for you on the pitch, and now through your bravery, off the pitch too.”
“I’m sure you’ll receive huge love and support from the football community and many others will follow your path. Good luck to you.”
Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, one of Manchester United’s legendary Class of ’92, spoke about Daniels on Sky’s Monday Night Football, saying, “What he has just done takes incredible courage. In a dressing room, that would seem like the unthinkable to announce you are gay. I can’t imagine how difficult that has been. All I would say is it’s a day of great importance for Jake and his family, but also for English football. It is a big, big moment for football.”
Neville continued, “The game has not dealt with this issue well at all. We know that now it is something that is acceptable from a fan point of view, but it’s not yet got into the dressing room. A dressing room can be an evil place … you think about the peer pressure and vulnerability. The way in which Jake spoke was absolutely incredible.”
Current England captain Harry Kane, who has previously voiced his support for the LGBTQ+ community, wrote, “Massive credit to you and the way your friends, family, club, and captain have supported you. Football should be welcoming for everyone.”, while former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand tweeted, “Massive respect for this brave decision. Let’s all help create a safe and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ people in football and beyond!”
The Professional Footballers’ Association, the players’ trade union, said that it was “extremely proud of Jake”, while the FA issued a statement saying, “We fully support your decision to be open about this part of yourself. Football is a game for all, with diversity at its heart, and this is a hugely positive step as we strive to build an inclusive game that we can all be proud of. We are with you and hope your story will help to give people across the game the strength and encouragement to be their true self.”
Blackpool FC, Daniels’ employer, wrote that “ [we are] incredibly proud [that Daniels] has reached a stage where he is empowered to express himself both on and off the pitch. It is vital that we all promote an environment where people feel comfortable to be themselves, and that football leads the way in removing any form of discrimination and prejudice.”
In 2020, the then Watford FC captain Troy Deeney told Louis Theroux that he was sure that there was a gay player in every team.