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Life as a gay footballer: Gainsborough Trinity star Liam Davis opens his heart

By JohnPakey  |  Posted: January 11, 2014

Gainsborough Trinity's Liam Davis

Comments (24)

After Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed he was gay this week, Gainsborough Trinity winger Liam Davis hopes that coming out as a gay footballer will make others feel confident to do the same.

The 23-year-old was talking after news that former German international and Aston Villa star Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed he was gay following his retirement from the game.

Davis said, aside from himself, he is unaware of any other footballers currently playing who are gay, but hopes that more feel comfortable to follow in his footsteps before his own career is over.

“There is none that I know of,” said Davis. “I thought about it the other day, they believe that five percent of the population is gay, so if you halve that for gender, that means there is 2.5 per cent gay men.

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“Now, with football played so much from the top level down to non-league, there has to be more than one, statistics say that. So what that says to me there must be some who are not comfortable to come out.

“At the age of 23 I like to think that I’ve got a good number of years left in the game and a lot of time to make a stand.

“I personally hope that over the next 10 years I’m not the only gay footballer out there. Nobody wants to be forced out, but I hope they can look and see there is someone out there who has done it.

“I hope we can get to a stage where it is not a bad thing, that there is no problem and people just get on with it.”

Davis has always been able to count on the support of friends and family since coming out in 2009.

However, he admitted that not since joining Trinity last summer has he been able to talk fully about being a gay footballer.

“I came out to my family and friends first. I did not even think about football. I didn’t think about hiding it though, because there is nothing to hide,” said Davis.

“Coming out was the right thing for me to do. If people didn’t accept it, then I would deal with it. You know you would get support from your family and friends, because that is human nature.

“I was at Selby at the time I came out, playing very low down in the football league pyramid. I did not bring it up. Nobody sat down and spoke about it, nobody bothered with it, or took an interest in it.

“After Selby I moved to Brigg. There was a lot more banter in the dressing room there. The lads knew and there were jokes, but at no point did it cross the line.

“There was nothing malicious ever said and it was a good place as there was a few of my old youth team mates from Grimsby there who knew me.

“I joined Gainsborough in the summer and I kept myself to myself. It was on a team night out in Sheffield that the question was asked.

“The goalkeeper Phil Barnes brought it up with me at the bar. I don’t know if it was a bit of Dutch courage that made me talk about it, but I think the way Phil asked helped as well. He did it in a jokey way which broke the ice and that was good.

“I didn’t know if people knew. I had intended to just get on with playing football. There had been questions like, ‘have you got a girlfriend’, and I’d just say ‘no’, because it was the truth, so I had a suspicion that they might have an idea. Then it turned out they all knew from the first day I was at training.

“That is the one thing I will say I really enjoy about playing for Gainsborough, is that it is a very close knit group of lads.

“Some of them have known each other for years and the others that come in are made to feel welcome, nobody is made to feel an outcast.”

Liam Davis talks about his move to Gainsborough Trinity

Davis career started in the youth ranks at Grimsby Town. From the age of 14 he was wrapped up in the football bubble and for four years it was his life.

And while even back then he knew he was gay, he said at the time it would have been difficult to discuss it.

“I started to get an idea when I was about 13 to 15. I understood there was something different about me, but nothing came of it until I was about 18.

“I joined Grimsby when I was 14 and was there until I was 18. It was my life. As a group we would train together then afterwards in groups of about four or five we would go out together in the evening.

“I wouldn’t have come out then. It was a situation when you have young people around you and their knowledge and experience is not as broad as others.

“When I was in the youth team at Grimsby, football is your life and you doing everything together. You train together then you will be out socially. But at a part time club, football is only part of it, you have a whole life outside of it.

“I went to other clubs and it has not been an issue, but it’s only since joining Gainsborough that I’ve had proper discussions about my sexuality, but it’s because they are interested in my life.

“None of it has been in an intrusive way, but with a good interest, becasue they care how you are getting on and to try and understand me a bit better.”

Davis believes because his teammates have a life outside of the game they are more understanding.

And it is Davis own work outside of football which makes him want to fight harder for greater equality in the sport.

The Grimsby-born lad currently co-owns with his partner Neil, the Point Café and Bar in Cleethopres.

Davis works the tables at the front, while Neil does the cooking and he feels that as his sexuality is never an issue to his customers, that it should not be the same in sport.

“My partner and I work in the same place and it will probably come across that we are a couple,” said Davis.

“But people do not walk out of our restaurant because of that. They come in for some good food and good service.

“It should be the same in football. I should be able to picked, or not picked, on merit, not because of my sexuality. You are there to play and do a good job for your team.”

Other sportsmen and women have come out or been open about their sexuality in recent years.

Olympic diver Tom Daley recently announced he was in a relationship with another man, while England women’s hockey captain Kate Walsh married her teammate Helen Richardson last September.

And this week Hitzlsperger hit the headlines by coming out.

Davis respects that Hitzlsperger has come out, but admitted he wished he did so while he was playing and he worries that it will be a long time before a professional at the top level reveals his sexuality.

“It would have been great if he had come out while he was still playing, then someone would have set the precedent,” said Davis.

“Until someone does, then everybody has to be in the closet. If he had done it, then a lot more would have followed.

“You have to respect, though, what he said about doing it at the right time for him. If he feels that his career is at an end and he’s okay now.

“Personally, I’m happy being out and proud of it. I don’t see why I should hide who I am.

“I think further up the football pyramid the harder it will be for a gay footballer to come out. There is the scale of the situation to consider, such as the number of fans in a ground and the amount of media that cover the football.

“I’m also worried the agents might be fearful of one of their players coming out. If a player has come out to his family and friends and his agent, could that agent warn against him going public for fear of the damage to his image and potential loss of earnings?

“At the lower level people are not completely wrapped up in it. I hope what I have done makes people feel more comfortable about coming out and that it can be more accepted in the game, and hopefully that will move up to the higher levels.

“I think that it is great that others sports are setting the precedent. The one that strikes me is the rugby player Gareth Thomas.

“He came out while still playing and to do so in a very macho sport like rugby. In rugby there is a lot of physical contact, certainly a lot more than football, so why can’t footballers feel okay to talk about it?”

Homophobic abuse is often seen as another reason for players to keep their sexuality hidden.

Davis has received abuse only once in the past, and he was encouraged by the fact the player in question did apologise soon afterwards.

“I’ve only had one incident and that was a few weeks ago. It was two comments off one player.,” said Davis.

“I didn’t react at the time it happened on the pitch, but I spoke about it afterwards. He managed to get hold of my number and sent me a text message to apologise.

“He said it was not done out of hatred and that it shouldn’t have been said. I’d like to think that he came to that conclusion himself and was not told to apologise.

“If I had taken action then it would have been a different situation. I know that player would not liked to have faced the prospect of being forced to serve a ban for homosexual abuse, it could have done a lot of damage to him not just in football, but also outside of it.”

Crucially for Davis, the support he received from friends and supporters after the incident that made him convinced that being a gay footballer in 2014 is not a problem.

And he hopes that the treatment he has received can help others open up about their sexuality.

“I wouldn’t be talking about this if it was not for all the support I have got from my friends, family and my partner. Crucially if it was not for the great support I’ve had from past teammates and my current club,” said Davis.

“Gainsborough have been brilliant and the way they have treated me has really given me the confidence to talk more about this and feel comfortable playing my football.

“I think that the support I have received hopefully shows that most clubs will be the same.

“Gainsborough is a good club, but they are not any different to a lot of teams in how they look after their players.

“I don’t think many changing rooms would make outcast of team mates. I think it is becoming more socially acceptable.”

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  • nigelsparky  |  January 18 2014, 10:02AM

    The story you mention about clerics and homophobia, was one story I didn't see. With the odd exception, I only really comment on football related stories on this site. Footballers are constantly abused, however in all the football matches I have attended over the years, I really do struggle to recollect any homophobic chanting/abuse etc. When I look at the homophobic comments posted on here, I see plenty of disapproving red thumbs, which for me is a small indication that homosexuality is widely accepted in society. The " gay pride" marches and rallies etc. that are regularly held wherever, what are they about then Adrian, if they're not about " shouting from the rooftops" and I'd be extremely surprised if they were organised by homophobic bigots :-)). I see all this clamour by the press and media to encourage gays to be open about their sexuality in the world of football, as being a bit like the PC brigade, whereby, doing what they are doing, are just making things worse, and encourage the exact opposite of what they are trying to achieve. Whether someone is gay or not, should not matter a jot in any walk of life. Bullying takes on many forms, and is something that is not exclusive to gays. There are plenty of nasty people out there, who take some kind of pleasure out of bullying others. It is happening all around us, and it's something that's not confined to the playground. In short, and this is my opinion, I really don't see the need for all this "coming out" thing, whether the person is a footballer or not, too much is made of it. Just get on with your life, there will always be homophobic bigots out there, racists and others, coming out isn't going to change that. As for the various religions of the world, and their beliefs, well that is whole different topic in itself, one I tend to steer well clear of. :-))

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  • Adrian040  |  January 18 2014, 1:22AM

    Nigel, try to see things from the perspective of a gay person in a game where it is normal to expect abuse because you are gay. Brighton fans get abuse every week simply because their city provided the first safe space for gay people to live openly without fear of being lynched. This is a society where it is normal for gay people to experience bullying at school, where nearly 40 percent of people think homosexuality is 'unacceptable'. It is not gay people that shout about homosexuality from the rooftops. It is the bigots. Were you as motivated to complain about the rabid clerics who made headline news last year by describing gay relationships as 'grotesque', as you were to comment on here? Where was your complaint when these morons rammed homophobia down everyone's throats? It is because people remain stony silent in the face of such vile hate, that people like Liam are badly needed, to redress the balance. The sooner good people like you show unequivocal support, the sooner stories like gay players in football will stop being news.

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  • nigelsparky  |  January 17 2014, 3:33PM

    "It's time folks realise, that it is not possible to be anything other than 'openly' gay, to anyone who is remotely important to you". So does that mean the general public are important to a a gay person? "When you are in a relationship - and our relationships are central to who we are - it's natural to shout it from the rooftops". True, but in my experience, that is when you're in love with someone is it not?. When was the last time an"openly heterosexual footballer" told the world via the press and media, "shouting from the rooftops" that he was heterosexual? Sorry but I don't get it.

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  • nigelsparky  |  January 17 2014, 1:52PM

    EMG you love to take peoples comments completely out of context don't you :-)) Please read my post properly, as I was referring to "chat shows", and where did I say "Never"!? I personally find gay sexual innuendos repulsive, sorry but that is me, I can't help the way I am, and by you and people like you having a go at me for having those feelings, means that you are no different to the homophobic bigots, that you and I clearly despair at. I have nothing whatsoever against gays or anyone else come to that, my point is it shouldn't matter what your sexual preference is, but why is there this fixation with it in the world of football? Yes there are probably loads of gays playing the game, as in any other sport, are they suffering, and if they are in what way? All footballers receive personal hurtful abuse in one form of another regardless of their sexual preference, skin colour, or whatever. But what people get up to in their private life is their business isn't it? And why isn't the media focusing on all sports? I am not aware of too many gay cricketers, tennis players, boxers, athletes, cyclists, racing drivers etc. so why isn't there the same focus. What about everyday jobs? There must be loads of gays wiring houses etc. I just find it all a bit of a circus, the media almost trying to make it into some kind of a freak show. Who cares at the end of the day as I said before, we are what we are. Oh and by the way, I have known Liam for a number of years through football, and he is not the sort to look for publicity.

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  • Adrian040  |  January 15 2014, 2:15PM

    Congratulations Liam. It's time folks realise, that it is not possible to be anything other than 'openly' gay, to anyone who is remotely important to you. When you are in a relationship - and our relationships are central to who we are - it's natural to shout it from the rooftops. When you have a relationship breakdown, your friends and colleagues are the people whose support you need. Your sexuality is central to who you are, and you deserve as much respect as anyone else. It is amazing that some mighty keyboard warriors out there react to the testimony of a gay person, explaining the challenges - and let's face it, hardly a week goes by without someone being a victim of a homophobic assault - with hysterical rantings about the sexuality being 'rammed down my throat'. If you are offended by the above testimony, you deserve to be. A coward would call Liam's story 'self-indulgent'. A real man would stand up to the bigot and drive them out of the game.

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  • DerekWilliams  |  January 15 2014, 2:15AM

    Best of British luck to this brave man, if he's this honest now, when he has so much to lose. I can only hope this represents a coming of age across all sports, but we must remind ourselves that this remains a distant dream in 78 countries of the world which imprison gay people, 7 of which have the death penalty. Much work is still to be done before we see acceptance worldwide, and the tide is going in the opposite direction in Russia, Nigeria, Uganda and India where penalties for homosexuality are being dramatically increased.

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  • eatmygoal  |  January 13 2014, 8:50PM

    They (football) managed to eventually deal sensibly with race which it had to accept because there is no denying skin colour. Hopefully if a few more players feel the need to come out it will be a slicker process as the machine has been tested before. In this particular instance I will offer my support and hope that if there are other wishing to be open about their sexuality for whatever reason, this story helps

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  • Bolshie  |  January 13 2014, 8:09PM

    Can't see why any football magazine would use a few comments on an article in the Echo as a barometer; surely they remember the failed attempt by Stonewall to get Premier League clubs to support their players wearing rainbow bootlaces to raise awareness of homophobia in football. That no club supported the initiative and given a voluntary option very few players chose to wear them clearly shows that football is very nervous of homophobia in its support base and the impact that openly supporting homosexuality (which is how many fans wild see it) might have on them. Personally I maintain it's only likely to be a problem if a players personal life is in the public domain and that in this country (as sad as it may be to many) attitudes toward homosexuality are not mature enough to allow a prominent football player to 'come out' without attracting an unwelcome reaction from (usually) opposing supporters that will distract the club from it's core business - winning football matches to keep the gravy train running. They are not a parade ring for peoples social hobby-horses.

  • eatmygoal  |  January 13 2014, 5:30PM

    Oh and the comments section on here was mentioned in a national football magazine saying how it was a little shirt sighted to call it attention seeking. It also stated that if this message board is a barometer then support at grounds might not be unanimous.

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  • eatmygoal  |  January 13 2014, 5:26PM

    Oop and missed out Riggwelters lovely little comment about being rammed down the throat, no innuendo indeed

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