Justin Fashanu: the name lives on ,,, because he is still one of Norwich City’s own
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Justin Fashanu may have gone, but his memory lives on forever – Chris Lakey looks at the former Norwich City player on the 22nd anniversary of his death
A giant rainbow banner, special scarves and a place in the Football Hall of Fame - proof in visible ways that the memory of Justin Fashanu is still with us.
On this day 22 years ago, Fashanu took his own life.
It shocked the football world, it shocked Norwich City fans to the core. This was one of their own who had decided he had had enough of homophobic abuse and tabloid newspaper harassment.
Justin Fashanu was gay. That’s all.
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More than two decades later in a world that has changed in so many ways but still requires people to fight against bigotry of all sorts, the name Justin Fashanu means something to so many,
Fashanu began his professional footballing career at Norwich, making more than 100 appearances and scoring 40 goals, the most spectacular one against Liverpool in February 1980 - the anniversary of which was marked this year when a giant rainbow banner was unfurled by fans as City took on the Reds again.
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But after just three years at City, Fashanu joined Nottingham Forest, becoming Britain’s first £1m black footballer. Brian Clough was Forest manager and despite his liberal outlook, it was by no means a marriage made in heaven.
Clough didn’t like the stories he was hearing about Fashanu visiting gay clubs and bars. They rowed. Fashanu lost form. And then Clough barred him from training with the side. He scored three goals in 32 league games for Forest and left in 1982, beginning a long slide down the footballing ladder. Fashanu went on to play for a long list of more than 20 clubs in England, Scotland, America and New Zealand, but rarely did he show the sort of form which put him on the fringes of England honours.
In 1990, he became England’s first male English professional to come out as gay. Eight years later he took his own life.
As well as being the subject of abuse and tabloid harassment, Fashanu’s own family rejected him. Brother John, who, with Justin moved to Norfolk at the age of six to live with a foster family, admitted recently he still feels guilty over his suicide 22 years later.
“He was the first black one million pound footballer, but he was gay. We could just not accept that at all as a family, the whole family,” said John, speaking to other contestants on reality show Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins.
“He was outcast, with a big boot. I remember I paid him a substantial amount of money to not come out and say he was gay, so when he came out and said he was gay, that was a little bit too much.”
Fashanu added: “Unfortunately, he then decided he couldn’t go on. God rest his soul, he [died by] suicide, he decided that was the best way out for himself.”
Asked if he still feels guilt over his brother’s death, he added: “Every day. There’s not a time when he doesn’t come into my mind. It was a very, very sad time. You can go over it again and again, and you can pray and wish that you’d handled yourself differently, but we didn’t. What a waste.”
John’s daughter Amal has become a prominent and tireless campaigner for inclusion in sport through the Justin Fashanu Foundation and earlier this year, was present as Justin was posthumously inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.
“Today would have been Uncle Justin’s 59th birthday and what a way to celebrate it on his behalf,” she said. “One of my favourite memories of Uncle Justin was his playful, cheeky character.
“He was so fun to be around and he would have been the life and soul of this event. Justin Fashanu was talented, smart, well-loved and charming. It warms my heart to witness his legacy being honoured more than 21 years after his untimely passing.”
City fan Di Cunningham founder of Proud Canaries, was at the induction ceremony – but doesn’t believe footballers are still prepared to come out.
“Even with this recognition for Justin, there was still some toxic hatred on Twitter, which shows that some still aren’t ready for it,” she said. “It is far more difficult to come out if the eyes of the world are upon you. We all need to work together, and leagues and the FA need to work with academies to encourage youngsters to be who they are.
“If a footballer was already out before they get to a global platform, then by the time they are there it will be a lot easier.”
They are sentiments shared by many today, particularly by many Norwich City fans, who have never forgotten that Justin Fashanu remains one of their own.
If you need to talk to someone, the Samaritans’ helpline number is 116 123