Justin Fashanu's niece Amal 'disappointed' as 'Gay Footballer' Twitter account deleted
Amal Fashanu voices "concerns" for individual behind popular Twitter account, now deleted; referee Ryan Atkin says "positive support" shown on social media "has been fantastic"
By David Mercer, Sky News
Last Updated: 24/07/19 9:49am
Amal Fashanu hopes the closure of a Twitter account called 'The Gay Footballer' has not "put off" any gay players who want to come out.
The niece of the late Justin Fashanu has told Sky News she is "upset" and "disheartened" after the anonymous social media account, which had been running for almost three weeks and amassed nearly 50,000 followers, was disabled on Tuesday evening - the day before the account user had suggested he would reveal his identity.
Sky News spoke to the purported footballer but could not verify if the claims made were true.
In a post shortly before the account was disabled, the Twitter user insisted he was not a hoax but said that he was "not strong enough to do this".
Amal Fashanu, whose uncle Justin was Britain's first and only out gay male professional footballer before he killed himself in 1998, told Sky News: "I'm pretty disheartened. It's actually upsetting. Have we made it that bad - the environment in football - that no one can actually come out?
"I'm just disappointed in a way and I feel kind of upset because if he actually is real and feels like he can't come out, that's really bad.
"That's what really concerns me the most - the fact he could be gay and, actually, has been going through really bad times and now he really feels like he doesn't want to come out."
Fashanu, who made a 2012 documentary about her uncle Justin, questioned whether Twitter was the right environment for a player to reveal their sexuality, with no active professional gay male footballers in Britain publicly out at present.
She said: "I really hope it doesn't put someone off [from coming out as a gay footballer].
"I really don't think it would put someone off. I don't think it has that power.
"I do believe if you are gay and you are playing football and you're genuinely not having a good time, it kind of beats everything else.
"It's not even a question of time. It's a matter of when and how. I just don't know if the right way would actually be to publicly come out on Twitter before anything else."
Fashanu, who is the daughter of former Wimbledon striker John Fashanu, had previously warned it could be "detrimental" to tackling homophobia in football if 'The Gay Footballer' Twitter account turned out to be a hoax.
In his final posts before the account was disabled, the purported player wrote: "I thought I was stronger. I was wrong.
"Call me all the names under the sun, belittle me and ridicule me, a lot will, and I can't change that, but I'm not strong enough to do this.
"Just remember that I've got feelings, without coming out I can't convince anybody otherwise, but this isn't a hoax. I wouldn't do that."
Football referee Ryan Atkin, the sport's first out gay professional official in the UK, said the reaction to the prospect of a male footballer coming out as gay had been "fantastic" but said speculation about the sexuality of players was "very dangerous".
He told Sky News: "I think we're at a point in our development in sport where it is acceptable to come out.
"What it does demonstrate is that being who you are is acceptable in football and across sport.
"The amount of positive support has been fantastic - 99.9 per cent of people have got behind it.
"I do think it's a matter of time before a footballer comes out. I don't think, however, that they would do it via Twitter."
Anyone feeling emotionally distressed or suicidal can call Samaritans for help on 116 123 or email email@example.com in the UK. In the US, call the Samaritans branch in your area or 1 (800) 273-TALK.
Sky Sports is a member of TeamPride and supports Stonewall's Rainbow Laces campaign.
Contact us at Sky Sports if you'd like to share a story to help raise awareness around LGBT inclusion in sport.