19 February 1961 – 2 May 1998 was an English footballer who played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. He was known by his early clubs to be gay, and came out to the press later in his career, to become the first and one of only two English professional footballers to be openly homosexual He was also the first black footballer to command a £1million transfer fee, with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981, but had little success as a player afterwards, although he continued to play at senior level until 1994.
After moving to the United States, in 1998 he was questioned by police when a seventeen-year-old boy accused him of sexual assault, for which he was charged, and an arrest warrant for him was issued in Howard County, Maryland on April 3, 1998, but he had already left his flat. According to his suicide note, fearing he would not get a fair trial because of his homosexuality, he fled to England where he killed himself in London in May of that year. His suicide note stated that the sex was consensual.
Early lifeFashanu was the son of a Nigerian barrister living in the UK and a Guyanese nurse called Pearl. When his parents split up, he and his brother, John, were sent to a Barnardo's home. When he was six, he and his brother were fostered by Alf and Betty Jackson and were brought up in Shropham near Attleborough, Norfolk. Justin Fashanu excelled at boxing as a youth, and was rumoured at one time to be pursuing a professional boxing career instead of his footballing career.
He subsequently became Britain's first £1million black footballer when he transferred to Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest in August 1981 as successor to the departing Trevor Francis.
His career stalled as his professional relationship with Brian Clough deteriorated; Clough, it would appear, was disturbed by the rumours of Justin Fashanu's visits to gay nightclubs and bars. His goals and then confidence dried up as he failed to fit in with the playing and lifestyle demands of Clough, especially after Clough had discovered his homosexuality and barred him from training with the side.
In his autobiography, Clough recounts a dressing down he gave Fashanu after hearing rumours that he was going to gay bars. "'Where do you go if you want a loaf of bread?' I asked him. 'A baker's, I suppose.' 'Where do you go if you want a leg of lamb?' 'A butcher's.' 'So why do you keep going to that bloody poofs' club?"'
In August 1982, he was loaned to Southampton (scoring 3 goals in 9 appearances). At The Dell, Fashanu settled in well and his promising form helped the "Saints" overcome the sudden departure of Kevin Keegan; manager Lawrie McMenemy would have liked to make the move permanent, but was prevented from doing so by lack of funds.
In December 1982, he was sold to local rivals Notts County for only £150,000. He scored 20 times in 64 games for the Magpies before moving to Brighton & Hove Albion in June 1985 for a fee of £115,000, where a knee injury looked to have finished his career. He went to the United States for surgery and began playing again, firstly with Los Angeles Heat and then to Canada with the Edmonton Brickmen and with the Hamilton Steelers.
He returned to the UK and tried to resurrect his playing career, joining Manchester City on 23 October 1989, and played twice in the First Division, but on 20 November, barely a month after joining the club, he moved to West Ham United, later having a trial with Ipswich Town. He joined Leyton Orient in March 1990 and subsequently joined non-league Southall as player-coach before spending a summer with Toronto Blizzard. After leaving Toronto he returned to England to sign for semi-pro Surrey team Leatherhead.
In 1990, he publicly came out as gay in an interview with the tabloid press, becoming the only prominent player in English football so far to do so. Many former colleagues spoke out in anger against him, stating that gays had no place in a team sport, and his brother John publicly disowned him. Although he claimed that he was generally well accepted by his fellow players, he freely admitted that they would often joke maliciously about his sexual orientation, and he also became the target of constant crowd abuse because of it.
He began a trial with Newcastle United on 24 October 1991, making one first-team appearance as a sub against Peterborough United. However, manager Ossie Ardiles refused to give him a permanent contract. He signed for Torquay United on 23 November 1991. He hogged the limelight while at Plainmoor: in particular, his relationship with Coronation Street actress Julie Goodyear featured in tabloid newspapers; but he still managed to impress on the pitch, playing 21 league games that season and scoring 10 goals, though he was unable to save Torquay from suffering relegation from the Third Division.
When Ivan Golac was appointed manager of Torquay in February 1992, Fashanu was given the role of assistant manager and maintained this position at the end of the season when Golac was replaced by new manager Paul Compton.
On 13 April 1992, Fashanu received a £265 fine and a 28-day driving ban after being found guilty of speeding and failing to produce his driving licence.
In February 1993, with Torquay battling against a second successive relegation, from the new Division Three to the Football Conference, Fashanu applied for the vacant post of manager following Compton's departure, but was turned down in favour of Neil Warnock. Fashanu left Torquay, having scored 15 goals in 41 games for the Gulls. He went to play for Airdrieonians soon after, but was unable to save them from suffering relegation from the Scottish Premier Division.
He left Airdrie in 1993, playing in Sweden with Trelleborg, before returning to Scotland, joining Heart of Midlothian in July 1993, but had his contract terminated in February 1994 for 'unprofessional conduct' (he had attempted to sell false stories regarding him and a number of cabinet ministers to the press), and returned to the United States to coach a boys team in Georgia. He later moved to Atlanta Ruckus, but was suspended for the playoffs for failure to comply with the terms of his contract, before joining Miramar Rangers in New Zealand in 1997. He then moved to Ellicott City, Maryland to coach the Maryland Mania, a new professional team in the second division USL A-League, following his officially announced retirement from the professional game.
Coming out in the pressFashanu agreed to an exclusive with The Sun tabloid to come out as gay. They ran the headline as "£1m Football Star: I AM GAY" on 22 October 1990. He claimed to have had an affair with a married Conservative MP, whom he first met in a London gay bar. "We ended up in bed together at his London flat," he said. A week later, his brother John Fashanu agreed to an exclusive with The Voice under the headline "John Fashanu: My Gay Brother is an outcast." Justin Fashanu was interviewed for the July 1991 cover story of Gay Times, where the situation was summarised as:
- The Sun dragged out the tale with titillating stories of sexual encounters with unnamed MPs, football players and pop stars, which, he claims, were largely untrue. The revelations, nevertheless, earned him a considerable sum of money but he says he was offered even more by others who wanted him to stay in the closet. He admits that he wasn't fully prepared for the backlash that followed and his career in football ... has suffered "heavy damage". Although he's fully fit, no club has offered him a full-time contract since the story first appeared. In 1992 he agreed to front Loud'n'proud a new national radio series aimed at young lesbians and gay men, but the pilot with Fashanu presenting was turned down by BBC Radio Five; it was later commissioned with a female presenter for BBC Radio 1.
Allegation and suicideIn March 1998, a seventeen-year-old claimed to police that he had been sexually assaulted by Fashanu after a night of drinking. The age of consent in Maryland is 16, but homosexual acts were illegal in Maryland at the time, and the youth stated the act was not consensual but being performed as he awoke. The assault was alleged to have taken place in Fashanu's apartment in Ellicott City, Maryland, United States. Fashanu was questioned about this by the police on 3 April, but he was not held in custody. The police later arrived at his flat with a warrant to arrest him on charges of second-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault, and second-degree assault; however, Fashanu had already fled to England.
On the morning of 3 May, he was found hanged in a deserted lock-up garage he had broken into, in Shoreditch, London, after visiting Chariots Roman Spa, a local gay sauna. In his suicide note, he denied the charges, stating that the sex was consensual, and that he had fled to England because he felt he could not get a fair trial because of his homosexuality, and he added: "I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family." An inquest held in London through 9 September heard evidence from a Scotland Yard detective that the Americans made no request for Fashanu to be found or arrested, and the Coroner stated that he was not a wanted man at the time he hanged himself. However, The Times and the reported that an arrest warrant had been issued by Howard County District Court on 3 April, that he had been charged with second-degree sexual assault and first-degree and second-degree assaults punishable by up to 20 years in jail, and that Howard County police would have requested his extradition had they known he fled to England. The inquest recorded a verdict of suicide.
Fashanu's remains were cremated and his ashes given to his family in Norfolk. In 2012, his niece, Amal Fashanu stated, "I'm proud Justin was my uncle and that he was brave enough to say what he did. I think my dad now regrets the harsh way he responded. The game needs more people like my uncle if homophobic barriers are to be removed." She presented the one-off BBC Three documentary Britain's Gay Footballers.
"I'm not homophobic and I never had been, but at the time I was certainly cross with my brother. I sleep at night wondering all the time, could I have done more and I keep coming up with the answer, yes I could have done more. Does that console me? No. We've cried for nearly two decades for Justin, it's enough."
LegacyFashanu was listed at number 99 in the Top 500 Lesbian and Gay Heroes in The Pink Paper.
Until former France international Olivier Rouyer came out in 2008, Fashanu was still the only professional footballer in the world to disclose that he was gay.
In March 2009 a football team, The Justin Fashanu All-stars, was christened at a special event in Brighton, supported by the FA. The team, named in his honour, was created by the Justin Campaign, which is a campaign against homophobia in football and promotes the inclusion of openly gay players in football.