“It just takes one person to be brave enough to do it.”
Russell Tovey has said he hopes a gay footballer will come out in the next few years, but acknowledges it would be a “terrifying prospect.”
The actor is currently starring in the The Pass, a film about a closeted Premiership football player, adapted from the play Tovey starred in on the West End. It opens the BFI Flare tomorrow night (March 16) in London.
Speaking to the Evening Standard about the prospect of a player coming out, Tovey says, “I hope it happens within the next few years, it just takes one person to be brave enough to do it.”
He adds, “Apparently there is a big sponsorship deal for the first big Premier League player to come out, a multi-million pound deal, but no one has picked it up yet.”
Justin Fashanu was the first professional footballer in the UK to come out as gay in 1990, though he suffered years of personal struggles, and took his own life in 1998.
British football has never had a major openly gay name since, but earlier this month, Fashanu’s niece said she knew of at least seven gay Premiership footballers who are still afraid to come out.
Tovey admits it must be a daunting position to be in.
“They are going to be elevated to some level beyond what they are doing in sport,” he says, “and if you are the first person to do that then it is a terrifying prospect because of the attention that is going to get.
“Football crowds are so tribal, it’s gladiatorial, and they seize on any weakness their opponents show and sadly in football being gay is still seen as a weakness.”
Elsewhere in his interview, Tovey also comments on a recent stage appearance in New York where the sight of his naked torso caused one man in the audience to pass out.
“It was a compliment,” he says, “but pressure came from that as well. Everyone commented on that and every night I had to take my top off and I was thinking everyone would be sitting there saying, ‘He fainted at that?’ and they are going to be more judgmental.”