Date: 13th March 2012 at 7:40pm
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On the 1st March, Walsall centre-half, Manny Smith, was fined £1,200 for making homophobic comments on Twitter. The tweets were directed at the openly gay Walsall supporter, Kevin Paddock. Kevin now tells his story of those events and what it is like to be a gay football fan: 

In 1991 my father asked me if I would like to go to the “footie” to watch Walsall v Middlesbrough in a friendly. Unknowingly would I realise that saying ‘yes` would have a major bearing on my life.

Once you fall in love with the beautiful game, it`s hard to lose that love – or so I thought?.

Around 8 years ago I made the toughest decision of my life. I decided to come out, that I was gay – to my family and friends.To reveal your sexuality is one of the hardest things you will have to face as a gay man or woman.

A few people I know have been left homeless since coming out and become the black sheep of the family. This is something that was always in the back of my mind. How would my family react?

Luckily for me my family and friends were supportive and made life easier.

As a lot of people may know, it was me that was on the receiving end of the abuse from Manny Smith and Jamie Paterson.

Let me confirm that the club and both players have been fantastic since the incident and I cannot fault the club for their support – especially from Daniel Mole.

To receive personal abuse from anyone is hurtful but to receive it from “your idols” is even harder to take. Why should someone who I pay to watch (and pay a portion towards their earnings) be allowed to comment on my sexual preference when they don`t know me? I don`t allow my family or friends to use the Q word towards me so I`m not going to allow a professional footballer use that term.

When I met Manny in the presence of West Midlands Police, at first I thought he was going to be an ignorant footballer who hadn`t realised what harm had been done, but as I got talking to Manny I could see in his eyes that he was genuinely upset and annoyed at himself for saying what he did. He informed me that if he knowingly knew I was an openly gay man he wouldn`t have said what he did. I think that is easier said than done.

Why is there such a stigma surrounding football and homosexuality??

On a Saturday afternoon I find myself hiding behind who I am.

When I am around fellow supporters in the pub or at the stadium, the doubt is always in the back of my mind, not knowing their reaction to my sexuality. This is not down to how my fellow fans are towards me nor how I am as a person but it`s purely down to the stigma within the footballing world.

How many gay footballers are there at the 92 football league clubs?

We don`t know. But what we do know is that 1 in 4 men are gay, so amongst the 1900+ professional footballers, at least one of them has to be gay.

Now I don`t care what footballer is or isn`t gay but the point is there needs to be a stance and allow the freedom of one professional footballer to reveal he is gay to stop the stigma. Gareth Thomas (Welsh Rugby Star) recently came out as gay and it has had no comebacks, and that`s in a sport that is deemed more ‘manly` than Football.

If only the FA had acted sooner to promote “The Kick It Out Campaign” I feel we wouldn`t be in this position today.

I am now assisting The Justin Campaign, to kick homophobia out of football. For readers that aren`t aware, Justin Fashanu, was the brother of former Wimbledon striker John Fashanu. Justin was the first openly gay footballer and due to the abuse he received, he hung himself. This story adds to the problems surrounding homosexuality in football.

This season the FA have joined up with The Justin Fashanu campaign to kick homophobia out of football. This campaign has unanimously been agreed by all clubs in the football league, including Walsall.

I can safely say that if the club and Manny hadn`t have responded the way they have to the situation, then I probably wouldn`t have attended another Walsall game for a long time. My love for football and Walsall FC has hit an all-time low, however the apology and the support from the club has given me belief that everyone is trying to stamp this stigma out of the beautiful game.

Kick homophobia out of football.

I contacted Lindsay England, founding Director of ‘Just a Ball Game?` an organisation that tackle homophobia in sport and she gave me this reply to the ‘Manny Smith` situation:

‘Great that the club took action, and through the correct channels the fine was introduced via the FA. An apology of sorts I suppose is better than none at all but something a little more sincere perhaps was needed. Smith needs to realise that whether he is in the spotlight or not, as a role model his actions can lead- as they did- for others to follow suit and post even more vile, hateful words. And words as we know can cut very deep with others even if we genuinely mean no harm. Making comments when you get frustrated and then regret them later I suppose happens to all of us in our lifetime. But a little self-education perhaps was missing as there is surely much more which could have been said, instead of what was. Saying ‘sorry` in person was a noble thing to do, but it did seem like the apology was more to do with being caught out and fined than really genuinely meant. Football players and indeed all sports people need to learn very quickly that in the work place or out of it this is not acceptable. The Equalities Act means you can be fired for these types of bullying, and being homophobic is a hate crime and punishable by law.`

‘It would be great to see the FA use the money from the fine to distribute to those of us without any funding, so we can help to make even more of a difference.`

Please support both ‘The Justin Campaign` and ‘More Than Just a Ball Game?` to help eradicate homophobia from our national game.

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