THE decision by the 17-year-old Blackpool FC player Jake Daniels to come out publicly about his homosexuality should be a watershed moment for men’s football throughout the UK and internationally. In the year 2022, it should not be news that a professional footballer shares his sexual orientation with hundreds of millions of other men around the world.

Yet, given that Daniels is only the ­second current, male professional footballer to come out as gay – alongside Australian A-League player Josh Cavallo of Adelaide United (who came out in October of last year) – it is clear that the men’s game ­continues to have a massive problem with homophobia. Indeed, world football’s ­governing body, Fifa, seems dedicated to proving the old adage that “a fish rots from the head” where homophobia is concerned.

The last Fifa men’s World Cup, in 2018, was hosted by Vladimir Putin’s deeply homophobic Russian state. This year’s ­tournament will take place in Qatar, a country in which homosexuality is illegal.

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All of this being so, Daniels deserves every admiring and supportive comment – including the praise of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp – that he has received.

Such is the ludicrous heterocentrism and machismo within the men’s game that it is an enormous and difficult step for any male footballer, at any stage in their career, to come out as gay. For Daniels to do so at such a young age, with his professional career in its infancy, took an immense amount of courage and maturity.

Daniels’s coming out should be a ­beacon, not only to every gay or ­bisexual professional footballer who is ­currently still in the closet, but to anyone, particularly every young person, who is still struggling to be open about their sexuality. Liz Ward of Stonewall – the campaigning charity for LGBTQ+ rights – said: “We are proud that Jake has felt able to share his truth with the world … We’re heartened by the ­solidarity and support he has received from Blackpool FC and his teammates.”

Ward’s comment about the ­importance of the support Daniels has received from within his football club gets to the heart of the matter. If this brave young man’s coming out is to have the positive impact it should have, that support needs to be replicated throughout the men’s game, from directors in boardrooms, to players in dressing rooms and, crucially, ­supporters in the stands and terraces.

Daniels has passed on a baton, not only to other male professional ­footballers who are yet to gain the confidence to come out, but to every football supporter across England and beyond. At Blackpool FC, those who support Daniels need to do so vocally. Any homophobic Blackpool fans need to be shown that they belong to a backward minority whose prejudices belong in the dustbin of history.

Likewise, supporters of all other clubs in the English Championship – the ­division in which Blackpool competes – have to be prepared to shout down any of their own fans who might try to use football rivalry or “banter” as an excuse to hurl ­homophobic abuse at Daniels. The Blackpool player’s coming out could help to open the floodgates for many other men currently playing professional ­football in the UK to do likewise. ­However, that won’t happen unless the fans get onside.

It is essential, both for men’s football and for society more widely, that this ­opportunity is not missed in the same way as was the coming out of the late Justin Fashanu in 1990. Although he was one of England’s most talented players, Fashanu’s coming out led to a ­horrendous homophobic backlash.

Unable to secure a place in a team in the upper echelons of English football, where he so clearly belonged, the brilliant striker ended up having a peripatetic seven years in the game in England, Scotland, the United States and elsewhere. Sidelined by the English game’s top directors and managers, the player was hounded by homophobic fans and was constantly the subject of gossip and innuendo in the British tabloid press.

Fashanu – who was carrying the double burden of homophobia and ­racism – finally took his own life in 1998, following accusations that he had sexually assaulted a 17-year-old man in the US state of Maryland. In his suicide note he denied the charges ­(writing that the sexual encounter had been ­consensual), but he feared that he had no chance of a fair trial in Maryland, a state in which homosexual acts were illegal at that time.

When one considers Fashanu’s life and career, it is hardly surprising that his coming out didn’t lead to a series of other players following suit. However, we have, as societies across the UK, made great strides in the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the 32 years since Fashanu made his brave decision to come out.

The National: Jake Daniels on the pitchJake Daniels on the pitch

Indeed, here in Scotland, we have ­particular reason to be proud of the ­advances that have been achieved. It is, for example, 22 years since the ­Scottish ­Parliament voted to repeal ­Margaret Thatcher’s hideously homophobic ­Section 28 of the Local Government Act (known as Clause 2a in Scotland), which, in its ­poisonous, deliberately vague language, forbade the “promotion” of ­homosexuality by local authorities.

Holyrood voted to scrap the bigoted ­legislation despite ferocious opposition from the likes of transport tycoon, and evangelical Christian, Brian Souter (who bankrolled the odious Keep the Clause campaign), the Daily Record ­newspaper, an alliance of conservative religious groups and 17 Tory MSPs.

Since then we have seen the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Act 2014 passed at Holyrood. Efforts to enhance the 2004 Gender Recognition Act are currently before the Scottish Parliament, giving lawmakers the opportunity to put Scotland at the forefront of trans rights, just as it has been in terms of the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

One doesn’t have to be an SNP ­supporter to feel proud to see the First Minister of Scotland as a guest of ­honour at the country’s first gay wedding (as Nicola Sturgeon was in 2014) or ­leading the Scotland’s largest ever LGBTQ+ Pride parade (as she did in Glasgow in 2018). Since the advent of devolution in 1999, Scotland has often played a leading ­legislative role where LGBTQ+ rights are concerned.

However, there is no room for complacency. No reasonable person would claim that Scottish society has been expunged of homophobia and transphobia.

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Even within my own pool of friends and acquaintances, I know people who have faced homophobic verbal abuse, threats and, appallingly, violence on the streets of Scotland in recent years. ­Anyone who doubts that such pernicious bigotry still exists in the male-dominated and, too ­often, macho culture around men’s ­football in this country is being ­naïve at best.

Not a single male professional ­footballer in Scotland currently feels able to come out as gay or bisexual. Hopefully, Jake Daniels’s coming out has given some players the confidence to consider joining him.

Daniels says that he wants “to be ­himself” in coming out. It will be much easier for men in Scottish professional football to follow suit if the entire ­football community – from the SFA, through the clubs, the players and supporters’ ­organisations – speaks with one voice, making it clear that homophobia, like ­racism, has no place in the game.

In 1969, the modern gay liberation movement was launched by the brave ­pioneers at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Sick of the relentless, ­homophobic violence of the NYPD, they took on the cops in their famous uprising.

Many, if not most, of Scotland’s professional footballers have supported Show Racism the Red Card and taken the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign over the last two years. Now, thanks to the courage of Jake Daniels, is football’s Gay Lives Matter moment.