Compare and contrast

Compare Robbie Fowler, as quoted on the BBC site:

Former Liverpool and England striker Robbie Fowler does not believe it would create a problem if a current player came out as gay.

It’s not a problem. Good to hear.

The 31-year-old told Football Focus it is “difficult to say” if there is a homophobic atmosphere in football.

Not sure about that answer. Hedging his bets?

“Certainly it would not be a problem in the dressing room,” Fowler said.

“I don’t think it will be a problem on the terraces.”

Also good to hear.

But Fowler’s name rings a bell somewhere…

Because of his desire not to live the archetypal footballer’s life, [Graham] Le Saux suffered abuse from players and fans during the 1990s, even though the 45-year-old is not gay.

Fowler, 38, has apologised after making an offensive gesture towards his former international team-mate in a game between Liverpool and Chelsea in 1999.

“I am genuinely sorry,” said Fowler. “It was used as a wind-up but looking back I shouldn’t have done it. Looking back, it is embarrassing.”

Ah, that’s it. Wind up maestro Fowler. Practitioner of innocent fun. Just a lad larking about. With the lads. One of the lads. So to speak.

Contrast with this view of Robbie from Graham Le Saux:

Because I had different interests, because I didn’t feel comfortable in the laddish drinking culture that was prevalent in English football in the late 1980s, it was generally assumed by my teammates that there was something wrong with me. It followed, naturally, that I must be gay.

For 14 years I had to listen to that suggestion repeated in vivid and forthright terms from thousands of voices in the stands. It was a lie. I am not gay and never have been, yet I became a victim of English football’s last taboo.

The homophobic taunting and bullying left me close to walking away from football. I went through times that were like depression. I did not know where I was going. I would get up in the morning and would not feel good and by the time I got into training I would be so nervous that I felt sick. I dreaded going in. I was like a bullied kid on his way to school to face his tormentors.

[…snip…]

Famously, there was another time when I stood up for myself, when I refused to look the other way. I had a family by then and my wife, Mariana, brought our newborn child, Georgina, to her first game. It was Liverpool again, but this time it was not a ten-year-old who was the problem. It was Robbie Fowler.

I had admired Robbie when he was a young player. He was a magnificent finisher, one of the best natural strikers I have seen. But as people, he and I are as far apart as possible. His trademark is sarcastic, put-down humour and an irreverent, caustic attitude. If that is how he plays, fine. But Robbie did not know when to stop. When things became unacceptable, he appeared ignorant of his social responsibilities and the consequences of his actions.

The Chelsea–Liverpool match at Stamford Bridge in 1999 was a high-tempo game and early in the second half I moved to clear the ball from left back. Robbie tried to block it but fouled me. I went down and Paul Durkin, the referee, booked him. Robbie looked at me. “Get up, you poof,” he said.

I stayed on the turf to get treatment and by then Robbie was standing ten yards away. The ball was in front of me, ready for the free kick. I looked at Robbie. He started bending over and pointing his backside in my direction. He looked over his shoulder and started yelling at me. He was smirking. “Come and give me one up the a***,” he said, repeating it three or four times.

The Chelsea fans were going berserk. The linesman was standing right next to me. He could see what Robbie was doing but did not take any action, not even to call Durkin over. Everyone knew what the gesture meant. There was not much room for interpretation. I asked the linesman what he was going to do. He stood there with a look of panic.

So I waited. Robbie could see he was winding me up and I suppose that gratified him, so he carried on doing it. I told the linesman I would not take the free kick until he stopped. It was a big moment, a stand-off.

What Robbie did provided a chance for people to confront a serious issue and I wish Durkin had sent him off for ungentlemanly conduct. Football had a chance to make a stand that day and Durkin would have been fêted for it. There could have been a strong statement that blatant homophobia would not be tolerated and maybe it would have been a turning point, taking some of the stigma away for gay footballers.

But football did not make a stand.

Read the whole thing, here. Then revisit the question: is it difficult to say if there is a homophobic problem in football? Do you think anything has changed since Graham Le Saux plied his trade?

[Thanks to Derek for the tip.]