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Zander Murray: Gala Fairydean Rovers striker was living in fear but weight is off his shoulders after coming out as gay

Zander Murray becomes first openly gay player in Scottish football since Justin Fashanu; Striker, who plays in the Lowland League, wants to be inspiration for others; Blackpool's Jake Daniels became UK's first active male professional footballer to come out as gay earlier this year

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Zander Murray says a weight has been lifted off his shoulders after becoming the first Scottish senior footballer to come out as gay

Zander Murray says he was "living in fear 24/7" but admits to feeling a huge weight off his shoulders after becoming the first Scottish senior footballer to come out as gay.

Murray, who is a striker for Lowland League side Gala Fairydean Rovers, has praised his team-mates for their support and says he hopes his announcement "helps other players who are struggling".

He becomes the first openly gay player in Scottish football since Justin Fashanu, who played for Airdrie and Hearts in the 1990s, and wants to be a role model for others, much like Blackpool's Jake Daniels and Scottish referees Craig Napier and Lloyd Wilson.

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Murray opens up about the role models who inspired him to come out, what held him back from going public about his sexuality sooner and discusses the chances of a Premier League footballer taking the same step.

What are your overriding emotions?

Zander Murray
Image: Murray has become the first senior Scottish football player to come out as gay

"Overwhelmed, empowered, inspired. And glad to be a part of something important."

How do you feel?

"Personally the weight is lifted off my shoulders, mainly because I have accepted myself and if I could inspire one person then it's done its job. The reach has been unimaginable, how many it has inspired and I hope that continues."

When did you first come out in your life?

"I came out in April last year and it has been a drip feed, telling close friends, family and then it got to a point recently where I had accepted it, but the only people who didn't know were the football community.

"I did a lot of work on myself and decided that now is the time in 2022 to get that ball rolling and be a pillar in this community, one of the many that have come before me."

What were you weighing up before coming out to football?

Zander Murray
Image: Murray is a striker for Lowland League side Gala Fairydean Rovers

"There's not many. Jake Daniels in the UK, he's so inspirational. We've shared conversations, he was so important for me. And then Lloyd Wilson and Craig Napier closer to home, the SFA referees, they are so important for me to take that step because then I could see even more doors.

"Obviously further afield you've got Josh Cavallo and Robbie Rogers - having these people as role models inspired me.

"The younger generations having these people to look up to and going, 'Ok, there's thriving gay men in this world', I think that's important because I never had that growing up and that's probably a part of why it took me so long."

Did you reach out to any of those individuals before you came out?

Zander Murray
Image: Murray, 30, had spells with Airdrie and Motherwell during his younger playing days

"I've spoken to them since coming out. Prior to it I did my research, I kept up with it with Jake Daniels and obviously seen in the press and the news about the people that we have mentioned. I didn't directly message them, but indirectly I gathered that inspiration from them."

What was holding you back from coming out to football?

"Fear is the big one. I was terrified that my team-mates, colleagues, opponents, people on social media would not take it well. It's all in my head. Now I can be my full self and nothing's changed. It means the world to me.

"Everyone in that dressing room is treating me the exact same and all the banter in and around the league - I've played in it for so long - it's the exact same so far. I'm just hoping that my being open and telling my story can, not necessarily [help them] tell team-mates and come out in public, but just accept yourself and fully accept yourself to then maybe begin the journey like I did - drip feed it to friends and family and then if it makes you feel good, amazing."

How did you approach the situation with your team-mates?

"I never did the sit everyone down and say, 'I'm gay'. It was through social media that it gained a lot of traction and a couple of them messaged me and I said, 'If you want to have a chat about it and you're interested in it, then I am happy to answer.

"But other than that you treat me the same. We have the same banter, we have the same fun, and we enjoy our football'. I've been blown away by the club from top to toe, they've been amazing."

How nervous were you the first time you walked back into the dressing room?

Zander Murray is a striker for Lowland League side Gala Fairydean Rovers
Image: Zander Murray is a striker for Lowland League side Gala Fairydean Rovers

"It was a bit different, there was a lot of media and Scottish Cup and I was one goal away from 100 goals, so there was a lot going on in my head.

"I was nervous, but I can't thank [my team-mates] enough with how supportive they have been and really just treating me normal. That's important and that is a message I want to put across to current players, to younger generations that at football clubs in this day and age [coming out] will enhance the connections that you've already got. I can vouch for that 100 per cent."

Do we need someone in the PL to do it for someone coming out to stop being news?

"It will probably take a couple more with a larger audience that play in the higher leagues to come out and then eventually, just like in women's football which is exemplary, it won't be news. Then all you need to do is just be comfortable and open in a dressing room to tell them what you're up to, what you're doing, what's your life if you have any strong connections.

"Football in Britain is doing a hell of a lot to support us, you see the pride flag everywhere, promotions around the stadium, armbands, players vocally telling you that they would openly with wide arms welcome anyone from our community. It's difficult for me to say because I have taken the leap, I do understand where people have come from and I know how scary and terrifying it is.

"My advice would be drip feed it, take your time, don't open up to everyone. Take your time, step by step process. I'm new to social media, so my DM's are always open if anyone wants to chat."

Do you think there are PL players that want to come out?

Zander Murray
Image: Gala Fairydean Rovers play in the Lowland League, one step below League Two

"The English Premier League I can't really vouch for, I think potentially a couple months ago there was something in the news about someone who wanted to do it. Maybe he got advised not to?

"So there could potentially be and what an unbelievable step that would be for not just our community, but the world. I think that would just settle things down and as you said this [people coming out] would not be news.

"I can see from direct messages that it is having an impact, not just on the current players, it's having an impact on the fans, other sports and that's what I want to do. That makes me happy."

How difficult was it to live your life in different compartments for so long?

"I can't express how difficult it was. I want to promote the positives of just accepting yourself, but there is no shying away from how difficult and challenging that was for me and I don't want anyone to go through that. It's a message that I've shared, for example Jake Daniels coming out at such a young age is incredible.

"You can live your full life and not be fearful of anything. If I can play a small part on the younger generations and current players' lives to inspire them and not do what I did, then it is one of my life ambitions complete."

How did you keep the two things separate when you'd come out in your private life?

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Tim Thornton says a big part of Jake Daniels' decision to come out was to 'feel free and help others', and says the striker has 'absolute clarity' about telling his story

"You're living in fear 24/7, I can't explain it. You're hiding your phone in case you get messages from friends, constantly double checking, if you have a team night out, you're cautious with what you're saying. It's very hard, especially for myself, I'm a character in that dressing room. I'm not quiet in that dressing room, I like to have the banter and to get stuck in, so very challenging. My advice to anyone would be, better out than in."

What impact did it have on your mental wellbeing before you came out?

"Coming out is one thing, but then accepting it walking around with your queer friends - I use queer, it's a shortened version of LGBTQ+ - no one gives you a rule book on how you are going to feel in public. 'Oh no, what if my football friends see me, what are they going to say?', [that's some of the worries I had] in my early stages of coming out. No one educates you on that and that was such a process.

I was nervous, but I can't thank [my team-mates] enough with how supportive they have been and really just treating me normal.
Zander Murray

"Walking with your boyfriend on the streets, that was so hard for me to really comprehend. It took a year and a half to fully accept me and maybe get little jibes in the street and now it wouldn't bother me.

"That's when I felt the shift and felt I can now go to a football ground and be me and if that does happen I can accept it and take it in my stride, which is beautiful to be honest."

Would you be happy now to bring your queer friends here to a game?

"At Gala Fairydean Rovers, 110 per cent. This is a fantastic club, head to toe with amazing people, genuinely amazing people. Now for the first time, 100 per cent I would.

"That is going to happen definitely. My friends have been asking for years to come and I felt terrible [saying no]. And actually I could have because really, no one cares.

"A lot of the mainstream media says as long as you play, you're happy and you're playing your football and you're good at football, that's all we care about. To me, I hope that resonates with people that are closeted playing football.

"Everyone is going to treat you the same. Being a professional football you are going to be in the limelight, you're going to get criticism, you're going to get slack, but by and large, everyone is going to treat you the same, especially in this day and age. We've come on leaps and bounds."

Do you think almost living a lie impacted on your football?

"Football to me and many others, you are on that pitch and it's a release and an escape.

"I would say when I've been offered opportunities to trial at bigger clubs, it has maybe hindered me. I've sabotaged myself in my head, thinking, 'Oh, well what if they find out, what if I slip up and say something?', that way I have sabotaged myself.

"However, I couldn't have done this at a better time at a better club because the support has been incredible."

What's your message to someone watching this who is in the same position as you 12 months ago?

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Nine months after becoming the first openly gay player in men's professional football, Adelaide United midfielder Josh Cavallo spoke with Tim Thornton about his life since the announcement and how his decision has helped to inspire others

"You have a choice, you could continue to be closeted, which I completely understand and respect to a degree because I know how difficult it is. However, do a bit of research, take the time, whatever makes you tick.

"See who the role models are out there, and what they are preaching and if you feel confident enough, step by step with that drip-feed process.

"Your close friend or a family member, have a chat with them and I guarantee everything will fall into place. No one would ever understand who I was before I came out to the guy I am speaking here to you. It is the best thing being your true organic stuff."

Blackpool's Jake Daniels became the first UK's first active male professional footballer to come out as gay earlier this year, and told his story to Sky Sports. Read here.

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