Graeme Souness, the Liverpool and Scotland legend renowned for his no-nonsense attitude on and off the pitch, has emerged as an unlikely hero in football’s ongoing battle against homophobia.
The dour Sky Sports pundit was reacting to the annual activation of Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign involving Premier League clubs showing their support for LGBTQ+ inclusion over the weekend. Despite the fact that the year is 2019, we are still not at a stage where one top flight footballer in this country has felt ready to come out as gay or bisexual.
Souness, more readily associated with anger directed at poor defending, surprised viewers with his thoughtful and nuanced take on the situation. He said:
Football has not created an environment where anyone would feel comfortable and confident about saying, 'Look, I am gay.' There must be gay players and bisexual players playing in the Premier League. There has to be.
When asked if such players might feel the pressure is too much to be the trailblazer, Souness replied with reference to his experiences at Brighton Pride:
But what a hero you would be… I came from a generation where it was extremely homophobic, the banter in the dressing room, but nine months ago I came down and took part in a parade here. It was enlightening and I learned so much and it changed my attitude. It was a fabulous day and I found it extremely educational and it was a thoroughly great day out. I would tell anyone, if you want to learn more then come down here for that parade and you’ll go away with a completely different opinion.
The 66-year-old concluded by pointing out that the wider footballing world needs to create an environment where players feel comfortable coming out.
How inspiring it is to see a prominent figure within the game, one who has often seemed reactionary, remain open-minded and willing to learn. There is a genuine sweetness and one can only imagine how much better the state of the world might be if more men of Souness’s age were as thoughtful and considered as this.