In search of a gay soccer hero: The Secret Footballer on homophobia

Editor’s Note: “The Secret Footballer” is a current player who has chosen to write about his life in the English game. His book “I Am The Secret Footballer: Lifting The Lid On The Beautiful Game” is published by Guardian Books. Read more about him at This article contains language that some readers may find offensive

Story highlights

Homosexual players in football remain scarce with Robbie Rogers the latest to come out and then retire

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Abuse for a gay player even in 2013 would be "intolerable"

CNN  — 

Childhood is confusing. It’s difficult to fully understand things at the best of times and, occasionally, you’ll experience something that is unlike anything that you’ve experienced thus far.

One such example came early for me. During our regular family drives, my father would play a cassette from an old BBC radio program that he’d first listened to as a kid growing up in the 1960s.

The show was called “Round The Horne” and it featured a couple of camp homosexual characters who went by the names of Julian and Sandy – played by Hugh Paddick and Kenneth Williams.

The pair were out-of-work actors who could be found running various fashionable and niche enterprises that always started with the word “bona” – such as “Bona Films.”

The sketches usually began with a very middle-class Kenneth Horne knocking on a shop door and asking “Hello, anybody there?” before Paddick answered “Ooh, hello! I’m Julian and this is my friend Sandy!”

The audience loved them and their appearances became a highlight of the show thanks to a mixture of “Polari” language – gay slang – and ever more risque double entendres.

Perhaps their best-known sketch is when Horne is looking for legal representation and pops into a little shop called “Bona Law.”

Horne: “Can you help me? I’ve erred.”

Sandy: “Well, we’ve all erred, ducky. I mean, it’s common knowledge, ennit, Jule?”

Horne: “Will you take my case?”

Julian: “Well, it depends on what it is. We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time.”

Horne: “Yes, but apart from that, I need legal advice.”

This was my first exposure to homosexuality and, because it was through humor, ably explained by my father, it meant that the only confusion around the subject came as I wondered why the kids in my school playground called each other “bender” or “queer.”

As a 10 or 11-year-old kid, you ask yourself very obvious and basic questions about the things that you’re unsure about. Why are the kids calling each other these names when the kid in question isn’t funny? Gays are funny, aren’t they?

Read: Shades of gray: The Secret Footballer on racism in soccer

It was, of course, down to an ignorance brought about by a lack of exposure at my age.

As you build up more encounters, so you build up a more complete picture of something. But the older I get, I do find myself continually amazed by the amount of people I meet who are still ignorant or underexposed to a whole range of things.