Podcasts: Gay footballers share their stories

In our latest round-up of LGBT sports pods episodes, four men discuss their experiences of playing football after coming out…

By Jon Holmes

It’s been a couple of months since our previous podcasts recap, when we again caught up with some of the best bits from recent interviews with people in sport who are LGBT+.

We’re bringing you these articles as part of partnerships with Level Playing Field and The Gay Footballer’s Podcast – both of which are produced in the US, but which feature athletes, coaches and others involved in sport from all over the world.

It’s football / soccer which we’re focusing on for this installment. Amid renewed focus in the UK at the moment on the best way to support those playing the men’s game professionally who may be gay or bisexual, there have been several pod episodes in the last few weeks which cover the topic. We thoroughly recommend listening to the episodes in full – but read on now to gain insight from four gay men who can speak from personal experience about being out in the game.

There’s also a quick look at some choice cuts related to other sports and sports media, at the foot of the article – and for even more, head to our ‘The LGBT Line’ section to read up on contributions from the likes of Dr Rachel McKinnon, John Amaechi, Tom Bosworth, Ryan Atkin, and more…

Andy Brennan, Green Gully SC (Level Playing Field)

Back in mid-May, Andy Brennan, who plays for Melbourne club Green Gully in the second tier of Australian pro soccer, came out through social media posts and in an interview with the Herald Sun newspaper.

The 26-year-old Tasmanian-born winger / striker, who had a brief spell in the A-League with Newcastle Jets from 2015 to 2017, has been focusing on his football again after the initial interest in his story abated. Green Gully are up to fifth in the Victoria state division of the National Premier Leagues after a run of only one defeat in 11 games, including a win away to league leaders Avondale at the end of June – a match in which Brennan scored the equaliser.

At the start of July, he spoke to Randy Boose for Level Playing Field about his early life back in Hobart, his football career, and how he arrived at the decision to come out publicly…

“I didn’t really date girls all the way up until I came out, but I did have a girlfriend last year for a couple of months. I suppose that was the last realisation that it wasn’t for me, and it was silly that I kept going down that path.

“I accepted [that I was gay] around September. It got to the point where I was looking back, and thinking I’d felt this way for so long. My earliest proper memories of it are from being around 15 or 16 – so for 10 odd years, I’d been properly thinking this way. And I just thought, well, if I waited another 10 years and I was 35 or 36, and it had been 20 years of my life… I hadn’t yet been in a relationship where I was completely happy.

“And I look around me and see all my friends in really loving relationships, and it’s getting to the point where they’re starting to talk about kids and marriage – and it scared me. I knew at this point that I was gay. I couldn’t get married [to a woman] and have kids – it had crossed my mind to do that – but if I was to be completely happy, it was not going to happen.

“I thought ‘this is stupid… to try and pretend to be someone I’m not’. It snapped me into reality really, and I knew what I had to do. I started talking to people, and opening up more, and through doing that, it made me feel really comfortable and happy.

“Looking back now, I’m so proud of how far I’ve come and who I am now, because I’ve not been happier, just being so open.”

Read Matt Johnson’s ‘One of the Boys’ article in The New Daily for more on Andy’s story. You can follow Andy on Instagram or Twitter.

ALSO… check out Randy’s interview with Luke Tuffs – the former Hartley Wintney FC first-team coach who was recently appointed as manager at Surrey-based Knaphill FC, of the Combined Counties Football League Premier Division (step 5 / level 9 of pyramid).

Luke, a great friend of Sports Media LGBT+, has certainly earned his stripes in the non-league game as a key part of Hartley’s success in recent years and we’re wishing him all the best as he starts out with the Knappers.

He’s a tremendous role model for LGBT+ people in football – we think he might be the first out manager of a professional or semi-professional men’s club in the UK (please let us know if that’s not the case!) – and his chat with Randy is not to be missed.

Liam Davis (Benched)

Familiar to many through his career in non-league – he played for Cleethorpes Town at Wembley in the 2017 FA Vase final – Liam Davis has also been helping UEFA out in the last year or so by providing LGBT+ representation as an ambassador on their #EqualGame campaign.

Interviewed by The iPaper‘s Jasmine Andersson for the podcast series ‘Benched’ by Message Heard, the 28-year-old (who co-owns and runs The Point Cafe Bar and Restaurant in Cleethorpes, should you ever be in need of local hospitality in the north-east Lincolnshire region) was asked if he ever felt he was treated differently by his team-mates during his playing career…

I’ve never felt any different to what any other player would, and I’ve probably been in seven or eight dressing rooms while being openly gay in all of them. Not one has felt any different to what anybody would expect. Inside the dressing room, everything’s a lot more close-knit than people seem to think. I think the negative stigma is much broader than ‘your dressing room’.

Liam Davis

Davis also talks about dealing with the media, his work with UEFA, his concerns around the increase in instances of racist discrimination in recent months, and a couple of incidents while playing when he was the victim of homophobic abuse. It’s a really frank conversation between Jasmine and Liam, and deserves a wide audience.

Liam is on Twitter at @LiamDavis07.

Jay Lemonius, Stonewall FC (Gay Footballer’s Podcast)

He’s not just a footballer with Stonewall FC, the world’s most successful LGBT-inclusive men’s football club and newly-crowned EuroGames Roma 2019 champions, in which he won the ‘Golden Stiletto’ as top scorer.

Jay Lemonius is also the Sports Campaigns Manager at the charity Stonewall, for whom he delivers inclusion guidance and work as well as raising awareness around the award-winning Rainbow Laces initiative.

Speaking to The Gay Footballer’s Podcast, Jay discusses his job, how he got into the LGBT-friendly London football scene, and the highlight of his football career to date – getting to play on the hallowed turf at Wembley Stadium! He’s also played at Old Trafford in recent months. He might as well just go pro now…

For the forthcoming 2019/20 campaign, Stonewall FC will be playing in the Middlesex County Football League Premier Division (that’s step 7 of non-league; level 11 of the English football pyramid) having finished as runners-up in Division 1 Central and East last season.

Host Adam McCabe asks Jay for his thoughts on what might be holding a gay or bi professional player from coming out publicly, and how everyone else in football can help…

“I always harken back to when I was in the closet. I don’t think it’s just difficult for a gay player to come out because it’s in football – it’s difficult for anybody to come out, whether they’re in football or not. I remember the feeling being very oppressive, very containing – just not very nice. You kind of think irrationally – so imagine at that time that there is a number of additional pressures, and it’s going to be quite challenging and difficult.

“So I look to veer away from the questions around when’s a player going to come out, and try and focus on stuff that you can control. You can control creating inclusive environments, and what we’re trying to do as an organisation – particularly with the work that we’re doing with the Premier League – is figuring out how we do that.

“One of the strands we’re looking at with the PL is Player Care… how do we create more confident Player Care professionals around LGBT+ inclusion, around supporting players who may be gay, bi or questioning their sexual orientation and gender identity?

“I think there’s a lot more to be done around creating the environment and things that we can affect, and I think once that’s in place then organically, someone will come out once they feel confident, but it’s a very personal decision so you can never control that… it’s really important for us to focus on things we can control.”

You can learn more about Jay, who also turns out for London Romans FC from time to time, in this interview with TheFA.com from last November. He’s also on Twitter at @JayDot90.

Gary Ginnaw, Charlton Invicta (Gay Footballer’s Podcast)

The player-manager of Charlton Invicta FC, who compete in the LGBT-inclusive London Unity League and also GFSN competitions, Gary Ginnaw is also the vice-chair of Proud Valiants, Charlton Athletic’s LGBT fans group.

He turns out at centre-back for Invicta, and has been with the club for several years, starting from when they were based in Bexley, Kent.

Gary’s boyfriend Sam also plays for Invicta, and both men have become respected voices on the merits and benefits of making football more welcoming for people who are LGBT+, at a time in which Charlton – recently promoted back to the Championship – have been making huge strides on inclusion.

In a follow-up to the recent episode with Charlton Athletic Community Trust’s Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Dr Michael Seeraj, Gary talks to Adam about his thoughts on why there’s so much interest in a gay male player coming out, and why he empathises with a footballer in that position…

“From what I’ve heard, I don’t think it’s as much of an issue within professional football clubs, within the teams. We had a training session last year for the FvH campaign run by the Charlton first-team coaching staff, and the manager at the time Karl Robinson went out on camera afterwards, and said that he’d actually spoken to his Charlton first-team players at training that morning, because he knew he had this session coming up and would be asked questions, that he asked his players ‘if anyone was to come out now, would any of you have an issue with it?’ And they all just shook their heads as if to say ‘what are you talking about, boss?’

“I don’t think players really have an issue. We all know that there are gay players in professional football. Within that dressing room, there might have been somebody, or somebody might have known somebody… and so I don’t think it’s so much of an issue within the dressing room. I think it’s the fans – it’s very difficult when you’ve got 50,000 fans watching. Someone’s not going to have a liking for one player – you’re going to have that regardless of whether you’re gay or straight. Cristiano Ronaldo used to get a lot of abuse just because he was better than everybody else! That just seems to be the kind of ‘laddy’ feel that football has.

“You’ve got opposing fans as well that can sometimes be quite boisterous against teams; opposing players might use anything they possibly can to wind up a player… there’s so many angles. You’ve got social media – footballers are role models and icons… and the agents have a big role to play. If you’ve got a potential big deal on the cards, and they think that a player coming out might affect the image and the deal, they might tell the player not to. You’ve got a lot of reasons why.

“For me personally, I’m an optimistic individual and I’ve seen a massive difference in football in the UK and across the world over the last five to six years. I think we’re not that far off.

“I know a lot of football fans, and I’ve seen it from Charlton messageboards, they keep saying ‘I don’t care if they’re gay or straight, I don’t care who they sleep with, I just want them to play football’. And that’s true and that’s how it should be. We’re not saying players have to come out if they’re gay. It just that football needs to be ready and accepting if and when that player does decide to come out.”

Learn more about Gary and his work at Charlton in this recent interview feature on Sky Sports. You can find him on Twitter at @GRGin1983.

More LGBT in sports podcasts to check out…

BBC LGBT Sport Podcast – congrats to our very own Jack Murley for passing the 50 episode mark on his podcast! Recent interviewees include sports editor and fellow network member Alex Kay-Jelski; the co-founder of the new LGBT motorsport network Racing Pride UK, Richard Morris; rugby broadcaster (and another fellow network member) Nick Heath; former boxing promoter Kellie Maloney; and lacrosse’s Edmund Connolly.

Same Team – the aforementioned Mr Murley has also been guesting on Dan Trainor’s LGBTQ sports podcast; basketball player and LGBT rights advocate Haley Videckis; the first college football player to come out back in 2014, Connor Mertens; and US gymnast Eddie Penev.

Level Playing Field – since our last post, Randy has completed Season One of his podcast, rounding off with guests Nick Lee (tennis); Kirk Walker (UCLA Softball); former NRL player Ian Roberts (rugby league); Anastasia Bucsis (speed skating); broadcaster Kate Scott; and Rugby Editions with South London Stags, Jozi Cats and Chicago Dragons. And last and most definitely least, I had a chat with Randy too, about Sports Media LGBT+ and lots more besides…

LifeTimes – Matthew Syed’s new one-on-one sports interview series for The Times is well worth a listen. He talks to Colin Jackson and Nicola Adams in two of the episodes in this six-parter.

Thanks to Randy at LPF, and Adam at TGF Pod.

Follow Sports Media LGBT+ on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Interested in potentially sharing your personal story of being LGBT+ in sport, in order to help inspire others? Get in touch with me at jon@sportsmedialgbt.com – here to offer support and advice.

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