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Justin Fashanu

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Justinus Soni "Justin" Fashanu (19 February 1961 – 2 May 1998) was an English footballer, who played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. His 1981 transfer to Nottingham Forest made him Britain's first £1m black footballer. In 1990 Fashanu encountered hostility after becoming the first prominent footballer to identify himself publicly as gay. In 1998 he was questioned by American police when a 17-year-old accused him of sexual assault. The police dropped the allegation because of lack of evidence, but Fashanu committed suicide in May of that year, protesting that he had "already been presumed guilty".

BiographyEdit

Early lifeEdit

Fashanu was the son of a Nigerian barrister living in England. When his parents split up he was sent, together with his younger brother John (who also became a professional footballer) to a Barnardo's home. When he was six, he and his brother were fostered by Alf and Betty Jackson and were brought up in Shropham near Attleborough, Norfolk.

Football careerEdit

Justin Fashanu began his career as an apprentice with Norwich City, turning professional towards the end of December 1978. He made his league debut on January 13 1979, against West Bromwich Albion, and settled into the Norwich side scoring regularly and occasionally spectacularly. In 1980, he won the BBC Goal of the Season award, for a very spectacular goal against Liverpool. He subsequently became Britain's first £1m black footballer when he transferred to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in August 1981 as a replacement for the outgoing Trevor Francis.

His career stalled as his professional relationship with Brian Clough deteriorated; Clough, it would appear, was disturbed by the rumours of Justin Fashanu's visits to gay nightclubs and bars. His goals and then confidence dried up as he failed to fit in with the playing and lifestyle demands of Clough, especially after Clough had discovered his homosexuality and barred him from even training with the side.

In his autobiography, Clough recounts a dressing down he gave Fashanu after hearing rumours that he was going to gay bars. "'Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?' I asked him. 'A baker's, I suppose.' 'Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?' 'A butcher's.' 'So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs' club?"'[1]

In August 1982 he was loaned to Southampton (scoring 3 goals in 9 appearances), and then in December that year was sold to local rivals Notts County for only £150,000. He scored 20 times in 64 games for the Magpies before moving to Brighton & Hove Albion in June 1985 for a fee of £115,000, where a knee injury looked to have finished his career. He went to the United States for surgery and began playing again, firstly with Los Angeles Heat and then to Canada with the Edmonton Brickmen.

He returned to the UK and tried to resurrect his playing career, joining Manchester City on 23 October 1989, and played twice in the First Division, but on 20 November, barely a month after joining the club, he moved to West Ham United, later having a trial with Ipswich Town. He joined Leyton Orient in March 1990 and subsequently joined non-league Southall as player-coach before spending a summer with Toronto Blizzard. after leaving Toronto he returned to England to sign for semi-pro Leatherhead.

In 1990, he publicly came out as gay in an interview with the tabloid press, becoming the only prominent player in English football so far to do so. Many former colleagues spoke out in anger against him, stating that homosexuals had no place in a team sport, and his brother John publicly disowned him. Although he claimed that he was generally well accepted by his fellow players, he freely admitted that they would often joke maliciously about his sexual orientation, and he also became the target of constant crowd abuse because of it.

He began a trial with Newcastle United on 24 October 1991, but he never played a first-team game for the club and manager Ossie Ardiles refused to give him a permanent contract. He signed for Torquay United on 23 November 1991, apparently one of the few league clubs willing to give him a real chance. He hogged the limelight while at Plainmoor, with his lifestyle, in particular his relationship with Coronation Street actress Julie Goodyear spread over the tabloids, but he still managed to impress on the pitch and played 21 league games that season and scored 10 goals, but was unable to save Torquay from suffering relegation from the Third Division.

When Ivan Golac was appointed manager of Torquay in February 1992, Fashanu was given the role of assistant maanger and maintained this position at the end of the season when Golac was replaced by new manager Paul Compton.

On 13 April 1992, Fashanu received a £265 fine and a 28-day driving ban after being found guilty of speeding and failing to produce his driver's licence.

In February 1993, with Torquay battling against a second successive relegation (from the new Division Three to the GM Vauxhall Conference, Fashanu applied for the vacant post of manager following Compton's departure, but was turned down in favour of Neil Warnock. Fashanu left to play for Airdrieonians soon after, but was unable to save them from suffering relegation from the Scottish Premier Division.

He had scored 15 goals in 41 games for the Gulls, a good record given that the 2 seasons he had been with the club had both involved relegation battles.

He left Airdrie in 1993, playing in Sweden with Trelleborg, before returning to Scotland, joining Heart of Midlothian in July 1993, but had his contract terminated in February 1994 for 'unprofessional conduct' (he had attempted to sell false stories regarding him and a number of cabinet ministers to the press) and returned to the United States to coach a boys team in Georgia. He later moved to Australia to play for Adelaide City and then to New Zealand to play for Miramar Rangers F.C. in 1997, before joining Atlanta Ruckus in the spring of the same year, but was suspended for the playoffs for failure to comply with the terms of his contract. He then moved to Ellicott City, Maryland to coach the Maryland Mania, a new professional team in the second division USL A-League, following his officially announced retirement from the professional game.

Coming out in the pressEdit

File:Gay Times 154.jpg

Justin Fashanu agreed an exclusive with The Sun tabloid to come out as gay. They ran the headline as "£1m Soccer Star: I AM GAY" on 22 October 1990.[2] He claimed to have had an affair with a married Conservative MP who he first met in a London gay bar and "we ended up in bed together at his London flat".[3]

In response a week later, his brother John Fashanu agreed an exclusive with The Voice who ran the headline "John Fashanu: My Gay Brother is an outcast."[4]

Justin Fashanu was interviewed for the July edition of Gay Times in 1991 (appearing on the front cover), where the situation was summarised as: The Sun dragged out the tale with titillating stories of sexual encounters with unnamed MPs, soccer players and pop stars, which, he claims, were largely untrue. The revelations, nevertheless, earned him a considerable sum of money but he says he was offered even more by others who wanted him to stay in the closet. He admits that he wasn't fully prepared for the backlash that followed and his career in football ... has suffered "heavy damage". Although he's fully fit, no club has offered him a full-time contract since the story first appeared.[5]

The tabloid interest in Fashanu gathered pace when—in a characteristically unusual twist—he started dating former Coronation Street actress Julie Goodyear, who had also recently sold stories to the press of her own lesbian past; the relationship was short-lived.

Allegations and suicideEdit

In 1998 in the United States, a 17-year-old claimed to police that on 25 March he found himself in Fashanu's bed, after a drinking bout, being sexually assaulted. Fashanu was questioned about this by the police on 3 April, but he was not held in custody. It was widely reported in the press that the police later arrived at his flat with a warrant to arrest him on charges of second-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault, and second-degree assault. However, Fashanu had already returned to England.

In the morning of 3 May 1998, he was found hanged in a deserted lock-up garage he had broken into, in Shoreditch, London, after visiting Chariots Roman Spa (a gay sauna in the area). In his suicide note, he stated: "I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family"..."I hope the Jesus I love welcomes me, I will at last find peace."[6]

An inquest in London, held on 9 September 1998, heard that there was in fact no warrant out for Fashanu's arrest and that the American police had already dropped the investigation because of lack of evidence. The inquest record a verdict of suicide on 37-year-old Fashanu.

Fashanu was listed at number 99 in the top 500 lesbian and gay heroes in The Pink Paper, 26 September, 1997, issue 500, page 15.

A decade after his death, Justin Fashanu is still the only professional footballer in the world to disclose that he was gay.[7]

FootnotesEdit

  1. Clough, Brian (1995). Clough: The Autobiography. Corgi Adult, 319 pages. ISBN 0552140031. 
  2. The Sun (22 October 1990). "£1m Soccer Star: I AM GAY". News Group Newspapers.
  3. (23 October 1990). "Soccer star in gay romp". Herald Sun.
  4. The Voice (newspaper) (30 October 1990). "John Fashanu: My Gay Brother is an outcast". GV Media Group.
  5. Marshall, John (July 1991). "Justin Fashanu: Soccer's enigmatic gay star". Gay Times (154). Millivres. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.</cite>  </li>
  6. <cite style="font-style:normal">Powell, Vicky (June 1998). "Suicide note increases speculation over death of Justin Fashanu". Gay Times (237). Millivres. Retrieved on 2006-12-24.</cite>  </li>
  7. BBC - Inside Out - East Midlands - Gay footballers </li></ol>

ReferencesEdit

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