The LGBT community and sport are (somehow) still distanced from one an other, not just in Jersey but worldwide, and in my opinion this needs to change.
One example is the fact that despite former Premier League midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger revealing he was gay after retiring from the football – there are no out LGBT players in the top tiers of men’s UK football.
Why? It is because they are worried about the reaction and out-dated abuse that they would receive not only when playing the sport they love, but also in this modern age, the potential of further online abuse, which simply needs to be talked about and acted upon, both in Jersey and beyond.
I caught up with Jay Curtis, last years First Team Player of The Year for Rozel Rovers FC, who spoke to me openly about his experiences of being a Gay footballer in Jersey, and explains what it is like to live on the island being proudly out.
Here is what was said!
Have you always played football since you remember?
Football has always been a massive part of my life. I think I started playing when I was 4 or 5 for the minis on a Sunday morning and ever since then I’ve fallen in love with the sport.
Who was your footballing hero when you grew up?
Frank Lampard (and he still is!). As a Chelsea fan, he is undoubtedly one of our best ever players. The amount of goals he scored from midfield was absolutely incredible and for him to be in the dugout now as manager is a special feeling. It’s refreshing to see him giving the young players opportunities and they are making the most of them. It’s a good time to be a Chelsea fan at the moment!
Who did you play for when you were growing up in Jersey?
I played for St Clement throughout junior football although now I play for the best team in St Lawrence – Rozel Rovers. Did you know St Lawrence is blue?
When did you know you were Gay? How hard was it coming out?
I probably knew when I was 12 or 13 although I didn’t come out until I was around 21. It was a really difficult time to be honest. Everyone had always assumed that I was ‘straight’ so I was worried about their reactions if I told them – I didn’t want them to think of me or treat me any differently. The thought of having to keep my sexuality a secret every day drained me and I never really thought I’d be happy.
Did you tell your teammates straight away?
No, not really. I didn’t know anyone in football that was gay at the time and the thought of making a big announcement to my teammates was too daunting so I just thought I’d let them find out through other people.
Have you had any bad experiences on the pitch from opposition players, the crowd or even your own?
Never from my own teammates. My teammates have always been really supportive and that means so much to me. Occasionally I’ll get comments from the crowd or opposition players but I don’t let it get to me. I try to focus on my game and let my football do the talking (although, if there’s a 50/50 with that opposition player, I’ll probably leave a bit extra on him!).
Why do you think it’s so hard to come out as gay in the footballing world?
The lack of representation in professional football is definitely a factor. Unfortunately, we live in a world at the moment where professional footballers don’t feel comfortable or safe to come out publicly. Whilst there have been a few examples of players coming out after retiring from football, there aren’t any ‘out’ footballers currently playing in England’s top four tiers of the male game, and this is the same for many other professional leagues around the world. There’s also still a way to go to tackle homophobia in football however, sadly, discrimination and abuse in football is a wider issue, as we’ve seen recently with the appalling racist scenes in Bulgaria.
Has your experiences in Jersey been positive since coming out as Gay, both in football and as a whole?
Yes, definitely. I’m very lucky to have such a supportive family and network of friends as everyone was there for me when I came out. It was a huge step for me but I’m proud of who I am and I hope that in the future we’ll continue to make positive strides by being respectful of people in similar situations.
What would your message be to others who may be finding it hard to open up to others about their sexuality?
As much as it was a relief for me to come out, everyone’s situation is different so I would tell someone not to feel pressurised to come out before they are ready. If the time isn’t right to come out to everyone, I’d recommend talking to a trusted friend or family member just so you’ve got someone close that you can talk to and let them know how you are feeling. It’s important to remember that although you may be struggling now, it does get better and you are never alone. Be proud of who you are.
What do you hope this interview will achieve for others reading it?
I want to show that people in the LGBT community can also be part of the football community in Jersey, and encourage people who may be worried that their sexuality will stop them from participating. Obviously I can only speak for myself, but my experience of local football has been largely positive since coming out and I would hope that would be the same for others. Regardless of someone’s sexuality, race, gender or background, everyone should be treated with the kindness and the respect that they deserve.
It was brilliant talking to Jay about, what in my eyes is a big taboo in sport worldwide, and hopefully through Jay’s courage and proudness of showing you exactly who he is, it will build a less daunting picture for those who are scared to come out.
A big thanks to Jay, and I hope us speaking about this topic will encourage more to openly speak about the topic, from your place of work to your teams training session, and even positively online and in your homes.