opening up

'You're just accepted for who you are and that's the way it should be in men's or women's football'

Ireland captain Katie McCabe reflects on the positive reaction since opening up about her relationship with team-mate Ruesha Littlejohn.

THERE WAS NO apprehension. No overthinking. In fact, there wasn’t a second thought. 

To many across the length and breadth of the country and further afield, it was a big deal. A big moment. A huge step.

But Ireland captain Katie McCabe took it all in her stride. It was something she was happy to do. For others. 

kt Katie McCabe and Ruesha Littlejohn at the Aviva Stadium in June. Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

In June, McCabe and her international team-mate Ruesha Littlejohn spoke publicly for the first time about their three-year relationship. Honestly and openly, they discussed their sexuality and shared their story as ambassadors for Aviva’s Pride campaign. 

It was 24-year-old Dubliner McCabe who was first approached.

No apprehension. No overthinking. Not even a second thought.

“No, honestly,” she reflects on the time. “I got the email and I was like, ‘Ah they want us to do this.’”

And plain and simple, they did.

I didn’t think twice about it. I think as footballers now we’re given this platform to be role models, and if I changed one person’s life and gave them that confidence to maybe come out to their parents or whatever like that, then I’m happy with that.

“It’s about giving people confidence and for them to be happy in themselves.

“There was no bad reaction,” she continues. “Everything was fine. I mean it was nothing I screamed and shouted about beforehand, I didn’t feel there was a need to.

“I was just really proud to be a part of the whole campaign with Aviva. I think they’ve done terrific stuff with the LGBT community and I’d do it again like that,” McCabe adds with a click of the fingers and a smile.

“I think the whole launch was great. It was great promotion for the LGBT community. There was no negative feedback.”

An overwhelmingly positive reaction so, and that’s nothing but encouraging for the Kilnamanagh native. There were plenty lovely of messages from family, friends and team-mates in the aftermath. She was home at the time, so her Arsenal crew saw it all unfold on Twitter and reached out straight away.

Katie McCabe McCabe is Ireland's youngest-ever captain after taking the armband at 21. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“We got a lot of positive messages,” she smiles. “It was great to see. You get some stick but nothing bad. It was all positive, which I was quite happy with because it was a positive launch and a positive movement. I’m happy it went very well.”

Perhaps, it was an initiative that showed just how far society has come over the past few years. The fact that a huge insurance company was making so much noise can only be positive going forward.

McCabe wholeheartedly agrees.

“It just shows Ireland now. That wouldn’t have happened in Ireland a few years ago. Obviously with the referendum and that, everything is changing.

“The world is evolving, society is evolving and I’m happy that as Ireland, we’re moving with it. We’re not just staying in the dinosaur age. I definitely think Ireland is more accepting.

I know I’d definitely feel comfortable walking around Dublin with my partner. I’m happy about that. You should be able to feel comfortable in your own country.

The Gunners star is most certainly comfortable in her own skin, and isn’t afraid to hide anything. That shines through more and more with every word she utters. But she’s well aware that many aren’t just as comfortable, and lie to hide who they really are.

One thing that McCabe and Littlejohn really stressed back in June is the fact that the women’s game is accepting and open in supporting gay footballers.

Women’s football is a loving place, so why is it so different in the men’s game?

Katie McCabe dejected Littlejohn (17) and McCabe (11). Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“I don’t know,” she admits. “I’ve never been in the men’s game to kind of compare but I get what you’re saying… I don’t know.

“In the women’s game, everything’s just chilled. I don’t know what it is with the men and people coming out, or why people are so obsessed about it.

“I feel like men’s footballers are so in the public domain all the time, maybe they just want to keep themselves to themselves. And that’s totally up to them, each to their own.

But in terms of women’s football, you don’t have to come in and tell everyone your sexuality. You’re just accepted for who you are and I think that’s the way it should be in men’s or women’s football.”

The fact that there is no openly-gay male professional currently playing in England has been a huge topic of conversation over the past few years, and that all looked set to change over the past few weeks and months. 

‘The Gay Footballer’ Twitter account was created in July, and claimed to be a Championship player set to publicly come out as gay.

The evening before a pre-planned press conference in which the player would open up, the account was deleted. “I’m not strong enough to do this,” read part of the message that was released.

Is it a question of somebody having the nerve to be the first? Will that be a big threshold for the men’s game?

“Yeah, maybe one day,” she ponders. “I don’t know. It’s a hard one to answer. They live their lives so publicly. That’s their job, to be footballers, they’re on that platform.

“For me personally, I’m like, ‘If you want to say it, you can say it. If you don’t, I’m not going to judge you or anything like that.’ I think everyone should be respected of their privacy if they want to.”

Katie McCabe with Lauryn McCabe and Holly Gobbet McCabe with her 11-year-old sister Lauryn and Holly Gobbet at the launch of Boots Ireland's three-year sponsorship of the WNT. Billy Stickland / INPHO Billy Stickland / INPHO / INPHO

Dublin star Nicole Owens delved deeper into the reasoning with The42 recently, and explored how and why the GAA is a heteronormative environment for men but being gay is accepted in the women’s game.

Fear is a big factor, she feels. It’s physically impossible that there are no gay male players, so it’s thought that people definitely hide their sexuality for fear of homophobic abuse and sledging.

And while that may also be the case in soccer across the water, with negative connotations on the field a possibility, McCabe assures that fear shouldn’t be a factor.

All went well for herself and her partner, and hopefully, that would be the case for anyone else who were to follow suit.

“I do think if there is a gay footballer, they shouldn’t be afraid,” she concludes. “They’re holding back for some sort of reason, I don’t know but they should maybe use their profile and their platform to come out.  

As I said with myself; change one person’s life with it by giving them that confidence to maybe open up their parents or close one and come out.

Republic of Ireland Captain Katie McCabe was in Tallaght Football Stadium today to announce the launch of Boots Ireland three-year sponsorship with the FAI as partner of the Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team.

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