Justin Fashanu, Britain’s first and only out gay male professional footballer will be posthumously inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame in Manchester on Wednesday - what would have been his 59th birthday.
The award celebrates those who have made an outstanding contribution to the sport and comes 22-years after the former Norwich City and Nottingham Forest striker, not to mention a true pioneer of the game, took his own life.
Born in Hackney on February 19, 1961, the son of a Nigerian barrister and Guyanese nurse, Justin and his brother were both sent to a Barnardo’s children’s home before being raised by foster parents in Suffolk.
Signing as an apprentice for Norwich City as a schoolboy, Fashanu made his debut as a 17-year-old on January 13, 1979 and would go on to score 35 goals in 90 appearances for Norwich City over three seasons, making him one of the most promising talents in England
As a result, he became the first-ever black player to be signed for a million pounds when he moved to Nottingham Forest from Norwich City in 1981 in what was a landmark move for British football; but he was also something of a game-changer off the field too.
He was England’s first openly gay male professional footballer and since his courageous decision to come out publicly in 1990, no other professional player has followed suit in the three decades that have followed.
Tragically Fashanu was found hanged in a disused garage in Shoreditch, East London, on May 3, 1998, barely a mile away from where he had been born 37 years prior with the suicide note he’d left for his friends and family reading: “I hope the Jesus I love welcomes me home.”
Justin’s niece, Amal Fashanu, herself a high profile campaigner against homophobia in sport and co-founder of The Justin Fashanu Foundation, which has been set up to highlight the issues of homophobia and other forms of discrimination in football, received the award on his behalf.
“This would have been Uncle Justin’s 59th birthday and what a way to celebrate it,” she said. “He was so fun to be around and he would have been the life and soul of this event. It warms my heart to witness his legacy being honoured more than 21 years after his untimely passing.”
Fashanu’s induction coincides with LGBT History Month as well as the launch of the National Football Museum’s LGBT+ Tour which has been developed with a group of LGBT+ volunteers and features objects from the museum’s collection which tell the story of LGBT+ history within the context of football.
“It’s unfortunate that we are still discussing discrimination in football in 2020 and it’s because of this harsh reality that we decided to create a platform in his name to tackle homophobia, racism and mental health within the game,” explained Ms Fashanu.
“The Justin Fashanu Foundation would like to thank The National Football Museum and all stakeholders involved who came together to honour my Uncle Justin.”
Fashanu endured significant discrimination and prejudice throughout his playing career and is widely considered a hero of the LGBT community for his courage to come forward, something which Di Cunningham, former Chair of Pride in Football and founder of Proud Canaries, Norwich City’s LGBT+ fan club is more than aware of.
"It's wonderful that Justin now has his rightful place among the country's footballing greats,” she said. “A magical player in his heyday as a Canary, he's also remembered for the dedication he showed to the Norfolk community where he was raised.
“The courage, determination and integrity central to his coming out when there were few rights for the LGBT+ community and when homophobia was systemic in football were remarkable at the time - in retrospect, given that no other elite player has felt able to emulate Justin in the last 30 years - it's even more stunning that he refused to hide who he was."
There are over 100 male players in the English Football Hall of Fame, which was launched in 2002 and is supported by the Professional Footballers’ Association as well as women, managers and teams.
Speaking of Fashanu’s induction National Football Museum CEO Tim Desmond said, “We’re delighted to present this award to Amal Fashanu on behalf of Justin and The Justin Fashanu Foundation.
“The National Football Museum Hall of Fame aims to recognise a wide diversity of individuals who’ve made an outstanding contribution to the game. Justin was a pioneer on many levels and with this award, we acknowledge not only Justin’s legacy but also the importance of the LGBT+ community within football.”