Black History Month: Celebrating Justin Fashanu
By Lucy Tonge
Content warning: Suicide.
Justin Fashanu began his career as an apprentice with Norwich City, having impressed as part of their academy, and signed his first professional contract in December 1978 aged just 17. Fashanu became the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee when he made the move from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981.
Fashanu became the first openly gay professional footballer when he made a public announcement in the Sun newspaper in October 1990. He stated that his fellow players generally accepted him well following his announcement, but he was nonetheless aware of malicious jokes made about his sexual orientation, and came to be a target of constant crowd abuse because of it. After moving to the US in 1998 he was questioned by police when a 17-year-old boy accused him of sexual assault. Fashanu fled to England where he tragically took his own life in May 1998. According to the note he left, he feared he would not get a fair trial because of his homosexuality.
To this day, Justin Fashanu remains the only openly gay professional player in English football. His decision to come out publicly led him to be considered by many in the game as a pioneer and an inspiration beyond the world of football. Fashanu was listed at number 99 in The Pink Paper's Top 500 Gay Heroes and in March 2009, a football team named The Justin Fashanu All-Stars was named in his honour at an event run by the Justin Campaign, a campaign against homophobia in football which promoted the inclusion of openly gay players in the game.
In 2019, The Justin Fashanu Foundation was founded in his memory by his niece Amal Fashanu, with the aim of confronting prejudice in football, with a special focus on the LGBT+ community. On the 19th February 2020, on what would have been his 59th birthday, Fashanu became the latest inductee to the National Football Museum's Hall of Fame.