POOF. Bender. Bufty. Forgive the jarring introduction, but it is designed to give you a taste of the experience which would face the first Scottish footballer to come out as gay, because either through social media or the next time he steps onto the pitch, these are among the first words that he would be faced with.

It was an interesting theory put forward by Hibernian chief executive Leeann Dempster yesterday that Scottish football is ready for its first openly gay footballer since Justin Fashanu played here in the nineties, but perhaps the more pertinent point is whether or not there is a gay player out there ready to open themselves up to the abuse that would follow an admission of being homosexual. And yes, I am aware it is 2019.

That Scotland is hugely more progressive than 25-odd years ago is beyond question. And I have no doubt that 99% of messages to any gay footballer would be supportive. In fact, there would be a large majority that would react with a shrug of the shoulders rather than any great outpouring of solidarity with the player in question, so inconsequential has sexuality become in almost all walks of Scottish life.

Evening Times:

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But sport, and particularly in male-dominated environments, has yet to fully move with the times. There are openly gay female footballers in Scotland, for example, who as far as I am aware seem to get on with their lives and careers just fine. But the terraces of our professional men’s game are a different ball-game altogether.

There is a playground mentality to football rivalry that targets any perceived weakness or difference and exploits it mercilessly. There often may not be any great intent to harm behind it or any deliberate malice, but the chants of being gay, bent, and having their backsides up for rent would no doubt be reprised and chanted with gusto.

Fashanu faced that sort of treatment down with a laugh that belied the inner turmoil and well-documented demons that eventually led to his death, by his own hand, in 1998. There would be a much greater support network now for a gay player to cope with the abuse they would face, but they would also have to be mentally strong enough to bear those slings and arrows, as well as the tag of being the only openly gay footballer in Scotland.

Even if their own coming out encouraged other players to do the same, they would always be known as the one who opened those floodgates.That should be a hugely positive label to have, but it’s a label nonetheless. And one that any individual may deem as not worth the accompanying hassle.

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Last week, Australian cricketer James Faulkner was wrongly reported to have come out as gay after referring to his flatmate jokingly as his ‘boyfriend’ in a social media post. What followed was a flood of supportive messages from fellow cricketers and the Australian public.

Having visited Australia - wonderful country that it is - I wouldn’t describe the natives as being more progressive or tolerant than Scots. Quite the opposite in fact. So, that is encouraging.

If a footballer who actually is gay is encouraged to come out by seeing that reaction, great. But whether Scottish football is ready for its first openly gay footballer in a quarter of a century comes down to whether or not it is ready to support that individual as he faces down the homophobic abuse that will inevitably follow.

Perhaps a trailblazing gay player will bear that burden, and in much the same way as racial abuse has been pushed to the extreme margins, intolerance of a person’s sexuality will become so toxic as to almost disappear.

But there are no openly gay players at the moment, sadly, for a very good reason


TWICE recently, while watching football from the comfort of my living room, I have been up off the couch involuntarily, making the sort of noises that might accompany a winning goal for Scotland in a World Cup final. Or, at least, a Nations League play-off game.

The man responsible on both occasions was Lionel Messi.

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The first time was in March when he rounded off an outrageous hat-trick against Real Betis by caressing a first-time chip over the towering goalkeeper, Pau López, and in off the underside of the bar. Even the home fans couldn't help but erupt in a spontaneous chorus of 'Messi! Messi! Messi!', and if the weans hadn't been in bed, I might have joined in too.

On Wednesday night, the little genius was at it again, curling a ridiculous free-kick into the top corner of Alisson's net as he inspired Barca to a three-goal lead over Liverpool in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, his second goal of the game.

The comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo are wearying and pointless. Everyone will have their favourite, so I am very much in the camp of just enjoying and savouring this era when they are still playing at the top of their games. They are both the wrong side of 30, and it won't last forever.

In saying that, there is only one player who has ever had me jumping about in my pyjamas when I have no connection to the team he plays for whatsoever. What a privilege to share in the joy of his play.