Media Responses to the Top Fan Study
The Top Fan study, a Staffordshire University research project by Ellis Cashmore and Dr. Jamie Cleland, was recently discussed on BBC Radio 4’s “Thinking Allowed” and in football magazine FourFourTwo. The survey showed that the vast majority of the respondents believed that there was no place for homophobia in football.
Dr. Cashmore explains that the main objective behind the survey had been to find out why none of the half-million professional football players of the world are out. Results were also meant to help tell the researchers how unpleasant or if at all unpleasant coming out would be in today’s football world.
The study had been conducted with the idea in mind, that, as public opinion believes, football is “stuck in the dark ages”. Campaigns to act against homophobia have previously been abandoned, as Cashmore states, in fear of the fans’ reactions, assuming a generally homophobic mindset among them, which, looking at the results of the at hand, seems to be mere prejudice.
Cashmore and his colleagues chose to work with an online survey to allow respondents to remain anonymous to receive the most honest answers possible. It would have been unthinkable to walk up to fans after a match, clipboard in hand and question them about their attitude to homosexuality and receive valid answers.
The result, that 93 percent of the respondents would clearly like to see homophobia disappear from the stadiums, is a surprise to many but not to David Goldblatt, author of “The Ball is Round” and “The Global History of Football,” who claims it meets his expectations.
Over the last few decades society has changed greatly and the “demographic of the football crowd” has not remained unchanged either. The gap between the football world and the general population has begun to close, Goldblatt explains.
What he finds most interesting about the survey is that the result “turns the spotlight… away from the problem of homophobia in crowds as a threat to footballers coming out… and puts [it] on the inner sanctum of football, on the culture in the dressing room, of players, of agents, of coaches.”
A fear of clubs and players alike are economic disadvantages. An out player might attract more attention that the clubs itself and sponsors may withdraw, because he does not fit their idea of a role model any longer. However, this fear seems absurd, considering the broad gay audience that buys sports goods and could serve as a previously neglected target demographic.
Dr Cashmore assumes homophobia in football is deeply rooted in 19th century ideals of masculinity. According to him, in a “moment of moral panic about masculinity” football was used by public schools as a tool to control boys’ sexuality. From these days repressed attitudes towards sexuality stemmed which still endure in today’s football world.
Finally, he suggests that fans create a seemingly “homophobic environment” by chanting and taunting, while what they actually want is clubs, players and coaches to accept homosexuality as a part of the game just like it is part of the rest of society.
The article in FourFourTwo emphasizes the fact that the TopFan study indicates that gay players need more support from their clubs and coaches. They advertise sending “a clearer message on the issue of gay players”, meaning that expressing opposition to homophobia simply is not enough, actions need to be taken.
In the end, both “Thinking Allowed” and FourFourTwo leave us with an important question the survey cannot answer: if a professional player came out, would he be able to rely on the support of the Professional Footballers’ Association?