I’d like to write about how progressive football is. I’d like to write about all the ways in which the sport, the players, the managers and fans are paragons of diversity and modernity. But instead I’m going to write about a gay player who’s in therapy and fans doing “Arab fancy dress” with tea towels on their heads. What exactly is football’s problem?

I’ll start with a bit more about the gay player. According to The Sun, the Premier League star is in therapy because he’s concerned about the consequences of coming out. Specifically, he’s worried how some fans will treat him. “It’s 2021 and I should be able to be free to tell everyone who I am,” he said. "But there are some fans for whom it is still very much the 1980s.”

You’ve probably also seen the story about the Newcastle supporters doing fancy dress. A few fans have been wearing tea towels on their heads in celebration of the club’s new Saudi owners. However, should we really be celebrating when Amnesty International has described the deal as a bitter blow for human rights? The anti-racism organisation Kick It Out has also reportedly proposed talks with Newcastle to discourage the fancy dress. All in all, not a good look.

I’m presuming none of this will come as a surprise. As the footballer pointed out, we still do not have an out gay player in 2021 despite other sports having several, or many, and despite at least two decades of extraordinary progress on LGBT rights and visibility. The result is that gay role models are everywhere pretty much, except it seems on the 100 by 130 yards of a football pitch. Amal Fashanu puts it this way: we have never been so woke but homophobia, especially online, is more prevalent than ever.

There may be something similar going on with the fancy dress. Most of us, I hope, would hesitate before doing the tea-towel-on-the-head thing; and if it’s true that we've never been so woke, then there would be similar concerns about Native American costumes and anything that resembles blacking up. But again, some of these attitudes do not appear to have reached some parts of the football stadium. The Newcastle guys thought the tea towels were hilarious.

All of this is troubling, and all of it probably demonstrates that the rate of change among some football fans is slower than the rate of change among, say, students, or the staff of Kick It Out, or even newspaper columnists. We should also acknowledge one of the principal reasons: football is still a predominantly working class sport and fans are less likely to be middle-class worrywarts who are acutely conscious of issues such as diversity. They slap tea towels on their heads and get on with it.

Any consideration of the issues of race or sexuality, I think, needs to take this class factor into account. We should also acknowledge that a lot of what’s wrong with football is balanced by a lot of what’s right – some of the pressure groups that now raise issues such as race started out with grassroots fans. Homophobic chants, tea-towels, whatever – it does not apply to everyone.

We should also be careful in what we lay at the door of the fans. The MP John Nicolson said of the Newcastle supporters that they “just did not care what Saudi Arabia's human rights abuse was”. He went on: “there was nobody who could have taken over that club, no matter the level of evil … that would have resulted in anything other than celebration for large numbers of these Newcastle United supporters. That's a kind of sickness at the heart of football isn't it?”

That, it seems to me, is over the top. Was the sight of Newcastle fans larking about – because that’s what it was – really a sign of “sickness”? Shouldn’t we also be patient for change from a sport that has already changed a great deal? And in the end we need to think about who the real target is. Fans with tea towels on their heads? Or governments, businesses and the bodies that govern football who are prepared to carry on as normal and deal with a country like Saudi Arabia as if there’s nothing really wrong at all?

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