We’re 21 years removed from former Norwich/Notts County F Justin Fashanu becoming the first —and only —- openly gay player in English professional soccer, yet not nearly so long past Ipswich supporters chanting, “he’s gay, he’s dead, he’s hanging in a shed”. The latter bit of cruelty is noted by the Guardian’s Patrick Barkham in Tuesday’s profile of Utsiktens BK midfielder Anton Hysén, 20, the first professional since Fashanu to reveal his homosexuality.
In an era when gay men and women play prominent roles in every other kind of entertainment, it looks increasingly bizarre that world football has no openly gay players – apart from Hysén (above). Although, as he points out, he currently plays in the fourth tier of Swedish football, working in the local Volvo factory to support himself, Hysén’s honesty about his sexuality is a big deal. His family is a footballing dynasty in Sweden; Hysén’s older brother, Tobias, is a Swedish international; their father, Glenn, was a tough defender who remains a celebrity in Sweden. In Britain, it would be rather like John Terry having a footballing son who came out. Perhaps most significantly of all, Hysén, like the English cricketer Steven Davies, who came out last month, made his declaration at the start of his career.
Hysén’s family and close friends have been completely supportive since he revealed his sexuality to them a few years ago; he figures he was born this way. “I always knew but I didn’t really think about it seriously when I was younger – you live at home and hang out with girls and you only really think about it when you start to want a serious relationship,” he says. Injuries stalled his development as a footballer with the Swedish premier-league club Häcken and now Hysén is rebuilding his career at Utsiktens, where his father became coach last year. Hysén did not court the flurry of global publicity that, invariably, came with his revelation. During a football magazine interview, Glenn casually mentioned his son’s sexuality; the journalist then politely approached Hysén to see if he wanted to come out. Hysén thought he might as well and, with typical frankness, told Offside magazine: “It is completely strange, isn’t it? It’s all fucked up. Where the hell are all the others? No one is coming out.”