Credit: Kiwicanary, CC BY-ND 2.0 DEED, via Flickr

Justin Fashanu

First outed active professional footballer in football history

People need to know the truth. Young people, old people, need to know it is OK to express your sexuality.

Who was he? What did he do?

Justinus Soni Fashanu, born on February 19, 1961 in London and died on May 2, 1998, was an English footballer and the first professional player to come out during his active career. 

He first played for Norwich City, where he scored a spectacular goal against Liverpool as a teenager, which was voted “Goal of the Season” by the BBC. His transfer to Nottingham Forest for the record transfer fee of 1 million pounds made him the first black player to achieve this sum.

Justin played for several international clubs before and after coming out in 1990, including in the USA and Canada, and continued his career at smaller English and Scottish clubs before ending his playing career in New Zealand. 

Despite the discrimination he faced and a serious knee injury that hampered his career, he left a significant legacy and was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2020.

What was his personal experience of a life crisis? How did he overcome it?

Justin experienced significant discrimination due to both his skin color and his sexual orientation in a predominantly homophobic and racist society and sports world. His time at Nottingham Forest was particularly difficult as he was openly discriminated against by his coach Brian Clough, teammates and football fans because of his skin color and especially his homosexuality.

His life and career were characterized by deep division and a lack of support. He desperately tried to suppress his homosexuality by joining a Christian sect. The ongoing struggles and serious allegations against him eventually led to his tragic suicide in 1998, when he was only 37 years old.

Brian Clough later admitted in his biography that he had not supported Justin during his time as a coach. 

“I was responsible for him because he fell under my jurisdiction as a coach, but I didn’t help him.”

What is his inspiration?

Justin saw himself as a pioneer and fought for his beliefs despite personal and professional setbacks. His courage to be the first prominent football player to come out publicly about his homosexuality makes him a source of inspiration for many in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.

The Justin Fashanu Foundation, set up by his niece Amal Fashanu, continues his legacy by campaigning against homophobia and discrimination.

Where was his favorite place in the world and why? What did he believe in?

While specific favorite places are not documented, football played a central role in his life. He found both challenges and moments of happiness in the sport. His deepest beliefs are reflected in his commitment to being a role model for others struggling with similar challenges.

What was a special moment in his life? What did he experience with his partner?

A defining moment in Justin’s life was his public coming out in 1990, which made him the first openly gay professional football player. His relationship with human rights activist Peter Tatchell in the 1980s was also a moving time. The two went on secret outings together along the Thames and hid their relationship to avoid social stigma and potential danger. These moments of freedom and shared happiness stood in stark contrast to the challenges Fashanu experienced in public.


Justin is my predecessor. He was the first professional footballer in the world to be outed, I was the second. I read his story in 1998 and was shocked because I was still struggling with myself and my life. 

I thought: “That could have been you”. Maybe today he would also be doing awareness and education work, like me, like us and his niece Amal Fashanu with the Justin Fashanu Foundation in England, who I am fortunate to be in contact with. 

His legacy and inspiration is “courage”, the courage to stand up for yourself and take a stand on the subject of love, passion and partnership, against all the odds. 

Today there is better, if not perfect, but better protection and self-confidence to be who you really are.

Football was his life, but it was difficult for him to find his place as a human being. Rest in peace, dear Justin.

(Marcus Urban, July 2023, co-founder of Diversero)

Note from the Diversero team: 

If you are in an acute crisis, please contact your doctor or psychotherapist, the nearest psychiatric clinic or the local emergency number (e.g. 911 in the US, 112 or 999 in UK). 

In the US, you can reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline around the clock and free of charge on 988 or 1-800-273-8255.

You can find an always up-to-date overview of international resources, advice centers and numbers for mental health here: