Born on February 19 1961, Justinus Soni Fashanu, was the first black footballer to command a £1m transfer fee from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest football club in 1981. He is also Britain’s first openly gay footballer.
Out of fear of not getting a fair trial about his sexuality, Fashanu committed suicide on May 1998 in London after a 17-year old boy accused him of sexual assault. He died aged 37.
Here are five things you need to know about Fashanu:
The Nigerian connection
Justin was the son of a Nigerian Barrister and Guyanese Nurse named Pearl. He was, however, born in England. This made him eligible to play for Nigeria and England. Justin did not play for Nigeria’s Super Eagles and England’s Three Lions. He was, however, capped by England’s U-21 team.
Justin’s brother, John, was also a footballer. Like Justin, John did not play for their fatherland. But unlike Justin, John was capped twice for the English senior national team.
Love for boxing
Before Justin discovered football, he had a bright career as an amateur boxer. Fashanu excelled at boxing as a youth and was rumoured at one time to be pursuing a professional boxing career instead of his footballing career.
Coming out as gay
Justin came out as gay in a publication by The Sun in October 1990. At that time, being gay was not largely acceptable, especially in a sport like football. As a result, Justin became an outcast. Even his brother John reportedly turned his back on him.
Justin Fashanu was interviewed for the July 1991 cover story of Gay Times, where the situation was summarised as: “The Sun dragged out the tale with titillating stories of sexual encounters with unnamed MPs, football players and pop stars, which, he claims, were largely untrue. The revelations, nevertheless, earned him a considerable sum of money but he says he was offered even more by others who wanted him to stay in the closet. He admits that he wasn’t fully prepared for the backlash that followed and his career in football … has suffered ‘heavy damage’. Although he’s fully fit, no club has offered him a full-time contract since the story first appeared.”
Justin won the BBC Goal of the Season award, after a flawless goal against Liverpool.
He ranked 99 in Top 500 Lesbian and Gay Heroes in the Pink paper. A short film was produced in his memory in July 2013 by Jann Halexander. Elephants and castles, a London Band released their first single in July 2014 titled “Fashanu” as a tribute to Justin.
A football team was created in Justin’s honour by the Justin Campaign in March 2009. It was a campaign against homophobia in football and was aimed at promoting homosexuality among football players.
First black footballer to command a £1million transfer fee
Although Justin was not the first black player in Britain, he was, however, the first to be sought by a big club. He scored 35 goals in 90 appearances for Norwich City in three seasons. His outstanding performances attracted Nottingham Forest to make him the first black footballer to be signed for a million pounds in 1981.
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