OK so there's this, reported here :
An online poll of more than 4,000 people across England, Wales and Scotland, conducted by the research company ComRes on behalf of 5 Live, found 82% of football fans said they would not have a problem with an openly gay player at their club.
Eight per cent, though, said they would not watch their team if there was an openly gay player in the side.
The survey also reported 61% of football fans believe gay players should come out to help others do the same, while 71% feel clubs should do more to educate supporters about homophobia.
Of the survey sample, 50% said they had heard homophobic abuse at a match, with 51% saying they have heard sexist abuse and 59% replying that they have heard racist abuse.
So. Let's do some bolding.
- 82% of football fans said they would not have a problem with an openly gay player at their club.
- Eight per cent, though, said they would not watch their team if there was an openly gay player in the side.
- 50% said they had heard homophobic abuse at a match.
Those numbers, taken all together, look a bit weird, don't they? Without the bolding.
Now - it's always possible that some of the 82% think of themselves as cool and groovy people who have many gay friends, or at least think that guy in IT who sorts out their caching issues on a weekly basis might be, y'know, but they don't have a problem with him. So they don't think of it as 'homophobic abuse' when they call a player a fucking faggot for skying one over the bar. Like when Martin Samuel apparently didn't realise he was being a prick when he said Joey Barton should 'come out' because it would help solve world hunger or something. That's part of the problem. Homophobic abuse isn't what you say. It's what they say.
And that's the rest of the problem. Them. It's not your supporters that are the problem, absent those 8% who are presumably still disgruntled that these young guys with double-barrelled names are mostly black, rather than the factory-owner's son coming down to help out the lads of a Saturday. It's that fans will throw whatever abuse they can come up with at opposition players, because that's all part of the game.
We've often seen fans defending their players no matter what. Racism, diving, racism, violence, and racism, mostly. So if one of their players was gay then he'd also probably be defended to the hilt - as long as he wasn't skying them over the bar. Then...meh. But if it was one of their players - them, them their players - then...banter, innit?
And the 61% can sit down and keep quiet, frankly, because while they might mean well, nobody owes anybody else 'help' here. And the other numbers give you an inkling why gay players might have a long hard think about 'coming out'.
I'm putting 'coming out' in 'these things', by the way, because here it seems to mean 'tell the world and do a photo feature in a magazine' whereas a lot of people are openly gay without that. Openly gay doesn't necessarily mean publicly gay. If you're in the public eye, then it will obviously be more difficult to make that distinction, but I really hope that if there are any gay men playing in the Premier League right now, they are comfortable. Their mates know. Their colleagues probably. Their family, hopefully. And everyone's fine with it. It's just we don't know. Because we don't need to. We aren't owed an explanation, a clarification, a 'coming out'.
Thing is, polling data like this is all very well, but 82% isn't everybody and those 8% and 50% numbers would ring likely ring loud in any player's head. FA Chairman Greg Clarke may be amazed and ashamed that nobody's 'come out' yet, but urging caution until abuse has been stamped out has an air of 'leave this to us, lads, it'll be fine' from an organisation that recently lost a manager after 67 days after a tabloid sting. That's not massively reassuring.
All we can hope is that the situation gets better. That the next poll is better. That the fine work done by many organisations continues to grow. And that if a Premier League footballer 'comes out' it is because he feels confident enough in the support of fans, club, FA, and football more generally to do so. Not because he's been caught on tape saying things in another tabloid sting.