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'Football has not created an environment where anyone would ever feel comfortable saying, 'I am gay''

A brilliant clip of Graeme Souness on a weekend where LGBT inclusion in football was pushed – though Everton are now investigating reports of homophobic chants.

Graeme Souness speaking on Sky Sports.
Graeme Souness speaking on Sky Sports.
Image: Sky Sports.

AMID THE ANNUAL activation of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, positive and negative stories came out of the Premier League this weekend. 

The campaign, which was designed to create LGBT-inclusive sports environments in which each individual truly feels part of the team, was first launched in football back in 2012.

It’s now a firm fixture in the calendar in late November/early December, but tackling LGBT discrimination and homophobia within the sport — at the top level, in particular — remains a work in progress.

One huge positive this weekend was Sky Sports pundit Graeme Souness’ openness on the matter as he spoke on the Super Sunday panel.

In addressing the fact that there are no openly gay footballers in the Premier League, the former Liverpool captain drew on his own experiences in football.

Souness touched on the homophobia he witnessed in his playing days, before explaining how attending this year’s Brighton Pride “changed my attitude.”

“I think football, the PFA, Premier League have to look at themselves,” Souness began.

“You ask the question, ‘Why has no one in the Premier League ever came out?’ I think football has not created an environment where anyone would ever feel comfortable and confident about saying, ‘Look, I am gay.’ 

There must be gay players and bisexual players playing in the Premier League. There has to be. But no one’s felt comfortable enough to come out and say, ‘This is me.’

Asked whether it’s because the pressure is too much to be the first openly gay player in the English top-flight, Souness noted:

“Yeah, but what a hero you would be. I can’t answer it, you can’t answer it, it has to come from that individual to say, ‘Look, enough’s enough, I want to be true to myself , true to my family, here I am.’

“I came from a generation, from a time in our football, I’d say was extremely homophobic… the banter in the dressing room.

Nine months ago, I came down and took part in a parade here. It was enlightening. I learned so much and it changed my attitude — Brighton Pride.

“It was a fabulous day out, it was sunny, it was mobbed. There were tens of thousands of people there. I found it extremely educational, and it was a thoroughly great day out. I would tell anyone, if you want to learn more come down here for that parade and you’ll go away with a completely different opinion.”

norwich-city-v-sheffield-united-premier-league-carrow-road Rainbow laces on boots yesterday. Source: Joe Giddens

Souness’ support came after Leicester City duo James Maddison and Ben Chilwell expressed their own support of LGBT footballers on Friday:

“If one of our team-mates was to come out and say they were gay, nothing changes,” Maddison said.  

But last night, we were reminded just how far we have to go as Everton confirmed they are investigating alleged homophobic chants reported during Saturday’s 3-1 Premier League win over Chelsea.

Everton say they, and equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out, received reports that chants were heard during the clash at Goodison Park. The Toffees confirmed the alleged chants in question were directed at Chelsea supporters by a small group of home fans.

A statement issued by the club on Sunday read: “Everton is working in conjunction with Kick It Out and has commenced an investigation into homophobic chanting reported during Saturday’s Premier League game against Chelsea.

“Both the club and Kick It Out have received reports of a homophobic chant being aimed at Chelsea’s fans by a small section of the home crowd.

Homophobia has no place within our stadium, our club, our community or our game. The club strongly condemns such behaviour and is carrying out a thorough investigation which will include liaison with Merseyside Police.”

- Additional reporting from Omni 

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Emma Duffy

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