He was the superstar soccer would not accept. A god given talent that withered and died against a backdrop of bullying and bigotry in the beautiful game. For a time in the late 1970’s, Justin Fashanu was the pin-up boy of British football. A 17 year old with the physique of a heavyweight boxer, the looks and charisma of a Hollywood film star and the touch of a genius. He was a teenage sensation, scoring the goal of the season against the mighty Liverpool and in the process becoming the first £1 million pound black footballer. He had the world at his feet but there was one problem; he was gay. As abuse rained on him from the terraces, team mates, trainers and even his own brother, the world of Justin Fashanu began to implode in dramatic fashion. His demise was all the more tragic given his abandonment as a child. Raised in care homes with his younger brother John, he had carried the wounds of rejection throughout this life. Football had been a place of solace, of peace. On the field he could just be Justin Fashanu, and yet true acceptance could never be found. Legendary British football manager Brian Clough, the man who had signed him for European Champions Nottingham Forest, had Fashanu escorted from the club by police after hearing rumours of his sexuality. From that moment Justin Fashanu descended into a dark and murky world of lies and deception. Fashanu became a Walter Mittystyle character hawking himself from club to club on both sides of the Atlantic, his personal life spiralling amidst rumours of affairs with members of parliament, liaisons with underage rent boys and tabloid scandal. His fall from stardom was brought into even sharper focus by the rise of his younger brother John who would become one of the biggest names in British football as well as a television celebrity. Justin and John were once all each other had, now they were at war with John publicly shaming his older brother for his sexuality. The player who should have performed on the greatest stage, been the flag bearer for homosexual footballers everywhere, the catalyst for a change in attitudes and acceptance, dead at the age of just 37. More than 25 years on he remains the highest profile footballer to come out as gay.
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