As the UK’s first male professional footballer to come out as gay in more than 30 years, the Blackpool forward Jake Daniels was bound to make an impact with his announcement on Monday night. But conversing with locals on the town’s promenade on Tuesday, opinion was divided.
While older fans praised the courage and strength exhibited by the 17-year-old, barely out of school and newly in the public eye, many younger fans asked “so what?” and called on football as a sport to move more swiftly with the times.
Daniels is the first prominent player in British men’s football to reveal they are gay since Justin Fashanu of Nottingham Forest in 1990. Fashanu, who was frequently the target of malicious comments and crowd abuse relating to his sexuality, killed himself in 1998.
Speaking on Sky Sports, which broke the story, the former Manchester United defender Gary Neville reflected that a similar announcement, even in the late 90s when he was active, would have felt “unthinkable” and described the news as “a great day for English football”.
It is a sentiment many people in Blackpool share. Mark Kerbil, a stall owner in Bonny Street market, said his wife, a lifelong fan of the club, was delighted at the news. “It’s terrific. People shouldn’t feel trapped inside a shell and unable to be their true selves.”
Kerbil’s feelings were similar to those of Dorothy Dempster, who runs Silcocks ice-cream parlour. “I’m one of 10 kids, and I have a gay brother and a gay sister,” she said. “News like this is good for football and it’s good for all of us because it helps erode prejudice – not just sexual prejudice, but that relating to race, gender and disabilities too.”
Paul Robinson, 52, echoed this sentiment. “If it stops people being scared and bullied then it’s a good thing,” he said.
Highlighting the generational divide in attitudes to homosexuality, Megan Lucy, 22, had more mixed feelings. As the manager of a gay bar in Leeds, she found the news “positive, but slightly bizarre in this day and age”. She said: “Football is the only sport that hasn’t caught up with the times, and it needs to – quickly. If this is the first step towards it doing that then great.”
Her partner, Tom Hall, said while he appreciated it must have “taken a lot” for Daniels to come out, he “couldn’t understand why it even qualifies as news”. He added: “Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I just don’t get what the fuss is about. Who cares about his sexuality if he’s a good footballer?”
Football fan Cullen Charnock, 19, said Daniels “should not be looked at as being any different to the rest of us”, and his friend Logan Artingstall summed up the mood among his peers, asking: “Don’t you think this news story is bigger than it should be?”
Football has long been considered a sport notorious for homophobic attitudes, with high-profile campaigns such as Football v Homophobia, The Justin Campaign – named after Fashanu – and Kick It Out aiming to eliminate discriminatory abuse at all levels.
A Paddy Power survey from 2019 found 69% of fans felt the Football Association should be doing more to prevent homophobia in the UK game, and 55% wanted their team to increase its support for LGBTQ+ rights for players.
In his announcement, Daniels referred to the culture of “toxic masculinity” that many still associate with the sport, calling out those who equate openness with “weakness”.
He went on to explain how the decision to come out had already improved his performance and mental health. “The day after I told my mum and sister I was gay, I scored four goals against Accrington.”
Beyond sport, Elton John congratulated Daniels, writing on Instagram: “A courageous and game-changing statement. At 17, he has hopefully changed the face of football forever. Bravo.”
Prince William, who is president of the FA, tweeted: “What Jake has done takes courage and will hopefully help break down barriers that have no place in our society.”
Boris Johnson tweeted: “Thank you for your bravery Jake. It would have taken huge courage to come out and you will be an inspiration to many both on and off the pitch.”
Blackpool FC said in a statement: “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.”
For many, Monday’s announcement is a watershed moment. To others, it is barely newsworthy. For some, it may be life-saving.