Coronation Street: ‘Football is ready to have a gay player’

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Coronation Street has been praised for its “really powerful” storyline about gay footballer James Bailey.

The plot sees James balance being gay with sporting ambitions after coming out to his family.

It all comes to a head this week, when rumours about James’s sexuality spread on social media, forcing his club to confront him about how he’ll respond.

LGBT charity Stonewall tells Radio 1 Newsbeat it hopes the storyline will help “moving national conversations on” about being gay in football.

And actor Nathan Graham, who plays James, says he hopes the story might encourage young viewers who are LGBT and involved in football to come out.

“I think as long as it helps somebody that might be going through the struggle of telling their family or if they are a young footballer who watches the show,” Nathan tells Newsbeat.

“They might see it and think ‘okay, you know, I can do this. Maybe I could be the first player to come out in this era’.”

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James is approached by a journalist who threatens to out him, after personal information is shared online

Nathan’s not part of the LGBT community, but says he’s “honoured and grateful” to have the chance to share this story with Coronation Street’s viewers.

As James’s storyline has unfolded, viewers have seen him clash with his dad Ed about his views on homosexuality and get into a relationship with another Corrie character, Danny.

The storyline certainly hasn’t changed anything yet – there are currently no professional footballers in the UK who are openly gay.

But it has been praised by LGBT people who work in sport like Craig Bratt, who’s 22 and works in the media team for Exeter City.

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Craig Bratt

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An Exeter City fan who sent abuse to Craig online was banned from the club for what he said

“I think it’ll have a massive impact because it is a real issue that’s affecting society,” Craig tells Newsbeat. He grew up watching Coronation Street on the sofa with his mum.

“If there was that sort of character back then – especially someone who was into sport and played football – it would have made things so much easier for me as a 15 or 16-year-old coming out to my parents.

Craig grew up a Crawley Town fan, and experienced homophobia directed at him on the terraces.

He was called things like “pansy”, “fairy” and more offensive words, which he says was because it was a small club and a lot of other fans knew who he was and knew about his sexuality.

‘This hasn’t happened for 30 years’

Because there are no out gay players in UK football, to prepare for the storyline on Corrie, Nathan met with rugby league player Keegan Hirst (who came out as gay in 2015) to find out about his experiences in professional sport.

“I’ve learned it’s still a big issue,” says Nathan.

“If it wasn’t an issue, then I’d like to think there would be some openly gay footballers out there in the world right now.

“The story team and the writers, they’ve got nothing to go from in that sense, because this situation hasn’t happened – at least for 30 years.”

Nathan’s talking about Justin Fashanu, who was the first male English professional football player to come out as gay while still playing, back in 1990. He took his own life in 1998.

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Justin played for several premiership teams during his career

“That was a completely different era and time and everything was so different,” says Nathan.

“The world has moved on quite a lot in since then, but it still hasn’t moved on enough in this area, with the stigma.”

“It would have been really nice to have someone to talk to get the essence and authenticity.”

‘No player wants to come out first’

Craig says he believes “football is ready” for a player to come out as gay, but says he doesn’t think that’ll happen anytime soon.

“I’m not sure anyone is strong enough or has the confidence to be the first. When you’re the first you’re the pace setter, everyone wants you for interviews,” he says.

“I think when we get the third, second, fourth, fifth, six, then it’ll just be normal.

“No-one will really care and media will think ‘we don’t need to run the gay football story anymore, because we’ve already been there’.”

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In the soap, James meets with officials from the team he plays for to discuss how to deal with the situation

Stonewall, which is behind the annual Rainbow Laces campaign in the UK, says storylines like this can challenge stereotypes.

“A lot of people find it hard to imagine that any top tier footballers – who are male – could potentially be gay or bi,” says Robbie De Santos, Stonewall’s director of sport.

“Much of it comes down to stereotypes in society. Stereotypes about what gay and bi men are like and what they could be good at.

“Football is seen as something that isn’t really for gay or bi men.”

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Craig says that he has received abuse on Twitter when he has posted about Rainbow Laces online

Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign is a yearly event that aims to make football and other sports more gay-friendly.

It invites players and fans to wear rainbow coloured shoe-laces, the colours of the LGBT pride flag, at sporting events to promote inclusivity and in an attempt to stamp out homophobia.

Craig says he hopes Nathan’s storyline – and what happens on screen this week – will help young LGBT people in football who “don’t know where to turn.”

“Hopefully this story will help people become more accepting of themselves and be able to talk about their issues rather than being worried what society and their clubs might think of them,” he says.

“It’ll help people who might not recognize it’s an issue be accepting of it and be tolerant.

“I really hope that there is a positive reaction to it.”

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