Words: Alastair James; pictures: Sheppey United FC
A semi-professional footballer in Kent has said he’s “overwhelmed” by the support he’s had after coming out as bisexual to his team.
On Tuesday (27 July) Sheppey United FC defender Jahmal Howlett-Mundle came out to his teammates, and in a heartwarming video of the moment is applauded and congratulated by the team.
In a later statement, Jahmal recognised that football remains a sport that is low on representation among active players, but that there has been some progress.
“Give others the confidence to follow suit”
In a video uploaded to the club's Twitter page, Jahmal can be seen addressing his teammates over the noise of people playing off-camera. He says: “I’m definitely someone that likes to keep themselves to themselves but […] I can’t be myself, I’m not being honest with me and everyone else.
“I think most people probably know this already, but I’m bisexual and I know that within football there’s sort of a stigma but […] I love you guys, you know? I really do”.
The announcement is met with immediate applause from Jahmal's assembled teammates - exactly how it should be.
The reactions from club fans have also been positive with one person tweeting, "I admire him so much for that as it doesn’t matter who he loves he is a great guy."
👏🏻 👏🏻 I admire him so much for that as it doesn’t matter who he loves he is a great guy.— Phil Saunders (@psaunders9) July 28, 2021
In a discussion posted on the Sheppey United website on Tuesday, Jahmal explained why he was being honest about his sexuality, hoping it “will give others the confidence to follow suit.”
He adds, “Football still has room for improvement in terms of players coming out and being themselves, but with the likes of Thomas Hitzlsperger and Thomas Beattie having done so, it’s slowly starting to evolve. We have seen other sports people like Gareth Thomas (Rugby) and Tom Daley (Diving) come out years ago and they are great role models for people like me.
This is how I feel pic.twitter.com/5jua1fnHPX— Jam (@jhmundle) July 28, 2021
Jahmal says he’ll now be “a better version” of himself and that is just as “hungry as any other player to step onto the football pitch”. He also says he wished he’s had someone like him to look up to when he was younger and thanked the club and staff for supporting him, saying it had been “overwhelming”.
"We as a club are fully supportive of Jahmal"
Sheppey United is part of the Southern Counties East Football League, around the 9th-10th division of English football. The club's Assistant Manager, Marcel Nimani, said of Jahmal: “Jahmal is a great footballer and leader for us on the pitch and an inspirational influencer off the field. In the 21st century, sexual orientation of a person is a normal existence in our society, but unfortunately in football it’s not quite the case.
"Bravery acts like Jahmal’s play a massive part in normalising members of the LGBTQIA+ community within football. I believe these acts go a long way in supporting many struggling sports people.
“I thank Jahmal for the trust that he has put into our club and we as a club are fully supportive of Jahmal in what is an emotional time for him.”
Football has long had an image as not the most LGBTQ-friendly sport. Justin Fashanu became the world’s first professional footballer to come out in 1990, and despite saying he knew of 12 other players who were either gay or bisexual at the time, no top-tier English league player has since followed his example.
Sadly, Fashanu was subjected to homophobic abuse from family and football fans, who also directed racial abuse at him as well. In 1998, he took his own life amid allegations he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old boy in the US.
There have been many documented instances of homophobia on the pitch, from either spectators or players. And when footballers have come out, it’s often been after they’ve finished playing, as with Hitzlsperger and Thomas Beattie.
The UK's highest-ranking gay football manager, Luke Tuff, has also spoken to Attitude previously about his experiences with the game. He said: "As a player, I’ve been spat on, I’ve had people threaten to stab me and all sorts. We have to fight to stop that homophobic abuse, which includes hatred from the terraces, and allowing a team spirit to develop on my side counters that."
There are efforts to make the sport more inclusive, but as seen recently with the racism during the Euros, that is some way off.
Congrats to Jahmal for coming out! We salute you!
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