After one night out in the pub with his teammates, 16-year-old Luke Tuffs found himself one photo away from changing his life. Now at 34-years-old, Tuffs is the first-team manager of Ashford Town Football Club and is very successful in what he does.
I thought that it was something that’ll die with me and I would never tell anyone.
“It came out accidentally, certainly in football. I think I already started to tell a couple of people, even a year before that I thought that it was something that’ll die with me and I would never tell anyone to be honest.”
As he tried to make a breakthrough at a young age, Tuffs admitted that playing for an LGBT football team helped him open up to others. “I started to play for a gay football club and, suddenly I was around light-minded people that were just normal lads that happened to be gay and loved football. And that helped me become confident in myself.”
With only a series of players and coaches publicly out, Tuffs found himself at the end of positive reaction. “Everyone responded well. I think there was one person that possibly didn’t react as well but, he got shouted down quickly. After that, it was a case where I didn’t really have to come out.”
From one club to the other, Tuffs past 17 years has been part of clubs across England as he managed teams without the fear of being openly gay and, now he wants to share his story and show you can make it.
“I know that of other managers and players have reached out and, they’ve said it’s made them a little bit more comfortable. They’ve obviously got a lot of steps to go through and a lot harder for them to come out because they are older and got lives. But again, seeing people making it and being okay, it’s great for them so, realistically you need people higher up in the game than I am to make a real difference to the world. And for all young people to say it’s okay to be gay.”
Along the journey of Tuffs, 2017 saw professional referee, Ryan Atkins come out to the world. After a positive outcome, the Stonewall and Athlete Ally ambassador has continued to challenge the football society and hopes to see a change in the next zero to ten years.
Whilst Tuffs and Atkins have received a positive reaction in coming out, the society of English football still lacks the understanding of football players coming out. From the social abuse players and fans receive to high profile figures not making a stand; the world of football is becoming accepting of the LGBT+ community but, there’s still a long time to go.
Throughout the years of football, visibility and awareness have become key in creating a safe space for others. From the rise of LGBT+ support groups to the ongoing campaigns Football v Homophobia and Stonewall do; organisations are leading the way for a change.
If there’s visibility in people knowing someone’s out, the more people are likely to come out
“It’s very important that there is visibility, it makes life a lot easier,” said Tuffs. “I know personally from myself the number of people around me that have come out. And the same can be said, in other walks of life that I know of, if there’s visibility in people knowing someone’s out, the more people are likely to come out because they see how you’re treated. In agreement with Tuffs, Atkins added: “I wouldn’t have thought it before I came out because there was no one else who was out. And that’s a barrier in itself. It can be extremely, difficult, but to have role models in sport, does allow those who are potentially thinking about getting involved, to sign up in some way.”
However, not everyone agrees – journalist and co-founder of Outsports admits that he is unsure how important it is and said: “Having these organisations help, having places for kids to find these stories, having campaigns like Rainbow Laces start. I don’t know how much anyone piece helps but, it doesn’t hurt.” He adds: “There are a couple of organisations that I question how effective they are but, at the end of the day, it all helps.”
For many, football has been perceived as a physical sport, a place for no emotion and a culture fulfilled with toxic masculinity. However, as years gone by, many believe this perception has disintegrated away from football. But others disagree.
Following on from our survey, nearly all respondents believe toxic masculinity play a part on someone who is thinking of coming out. However, Zeigler thinks the opposite and believes the perception of masculinity is changing. “You look at some of the most iconic, famous sports figures and you look at the way they dress and the way they hold themselves. You could trace a lot of this back to David Beckham, I think; in the term of the metrosexual, this idea that you can be one of the greatest, successful and most, powerful athlete in the world and you don’t have to dress like a dude; you can dress like a sophisticated man. There’s no question that these things have changed, affection that men show each other, it’s all changing.
With that in mind, Tuffs hopes to challenge the stereotypes of football. “That’s the one I want to change, the stereotype that if you’re gay, you got no masculinity, you got nothing about you and, you get offended really easily and, you aren’t going to survive in that culture.”
So how far has football come?
Being over thirty-years since Justin Fashanu came out, the football world has slowly shown acceptance and gain a positive shift in people’s attitudes.
From allies standing up, fans challenging homophobia and players feel more comfortable. But just like anything, there’s still a sense of something missing as Tuffs urged that there are still problems that need to be, resolved but adds young people are leading the way.
“It would be lovely to see some players that are out at higher levels. I do think that possibly won’t be people coming out, I think you’ll find it’ll be young players like academy boys that are out as children that grow into adults that are already out.”
To see more from the project check out the links below