An English manager opens up on coming out as gay to not just his family and friends but also with those he works with in football.
Ashford Town (Middlesex) boss Luke Tuffs has spoken to the media about his experience, but also what it’s like to be a homosexual just trying to do his job.
He thinks men’s football needs more LGBTQ+ role models, to help those struggling to come out due to fear of being mocked, criticised, or having their life screwed up by newspaper outlets who try to out everything about their personal and sexual lifestyle as we’ve seen with some many in the public eye already.
He appeared on BBC’s Football Focus and it’s certainly caused a stir on social media, though it’s not about those who have taken offence to what he’s said, but more if his words have a positive impact and the interview manages to help even one person.
Luke Tuffs is Ashford Town’s manager and a gay man.
He thinks men’s football needs more LGBTQ+ role models.
📲💻 Football Focus on BBC One at 12pm
Talking when he was at Hartley Wintney, a club in the eighth tier of English football: “For me, being gay has helped my career – massively.
He come out as a teenager to his much older team-mates while playing for his local team Camberley Town, and finding himself accepted, he managed to avoid the uncertainty that other gay or bisexual people tend to struggle with, in their formative adult years.
“There’s been many other gay people in the game who have reached out to me for advice, or just to make a contact. As much as everyone else networks, we network and help each other out.
“I now work with the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Fans for Diversity campaign, which Anwar Uddin runs and which does fantastic work. The PFA invited me to observe their B Licence too – they don’t get a lot of credit, but they’ve been brilliant with me.”
On the question of how to best help a player who is coming to terms with their sexuality, he said: “I’m very much in the culture.
“I’ve been in many dressing rooms, and the only successful ones are those that are hungry, and have that pack mentality,” he explains. “With younger players, I try to develop them for that. You either sink or swim – and to succeed, you have got to swim. Those coming through are going to have to be thick skinned.
“However, if it’s a case of bullying, that’s very different. I know my players and I know my dressing room. If someone’s getting it more than someone else, and it crosses the line, you put a stop to it. If it’s the case that they need to be a little bit thicker skinned, and everyone in there is getting it the same, then I’m going to teach them how to deal with that.”
Tuffs accepts that he is hardened to certain language, words which could make a closeted gay player draw back into his or her shell, especially if misused or taken out of context which is so easily done these days with so many different reasons for words/phrases.
The dodgy area of ‘banter’ is most concerning, but Tuffs has a technique for those who are uneasy is to try to teach acceptance, both of the self, and of the culture. “I don’t want it to change. Genuinely, the dressing rooms where people get stick are the most together. If I’m always worried that someone will get offended, what I can or can’t say to someone, then that’s not real friendship and you’ll never have that closeness.”
On life with fans in the terraces, or when surrounded by strangers, an LGBT person who is out in football may experience a different type of bond and familiarity they would get with friends behind dressing-room doors, which makes the dynamic very different. “They don’t know you, and you don’t know them, so there isn’t that consent or circle of trust” says Tuffs.
Tuffs remembers an incident at a game over a year ago, when members of the opposition bench tried to show they knew he was gay in order to unsettle him, only to then embarrass themselves. “They pointed at me and said ‘there’s that tranny!’ I said back, ‘I’m not trans, I’m gay’… lots of people heard it and asked me if I was going to report it.
“I was worried about doing that, because I didn’t want people to think I get offended easily. But my club and the chairlady all told me to report it. Also I have a couple of friends who are trans, so I thought about them too. I realised it would be a bit selfish of me if I didn’t report it, so we brought it to ‘FA court’, and it all got sorted out.
“I found it difficult though. One of the perceptions about gay people, I feel, is that we’re easily offended. That is a perception that I’m determined to destroy.”
Tuffs adds that a player’s first concern is always going to be his future. “I know a few people higher up in the game who are gay, and I think you’ll find the main thing they think about is ‘am I going to get another contract?’
“The chances of a pro getting another contract are very low as it is, so though open homophobia is not tolerated, people may still hold those views. A manager looking at a player he knows or thinks is gay might just say, ‘oh, we won’t sign him, he’s not quick enough’.
“Quite simply, the game will change on this, but when our current younger generation becomes older. Is that good enough? It might be that’s just how it is.”
The non league manager points to the success of LGBT-inclusive football clubs up and down the UK, despite the often negative reaction that we tend to see in the comment section online.
“When I joined the club [London Titans], I suddenly made about 40 friends who were gay. As a 19-year-old, that was huge for me. If you’re a gay person that happens to like football, getting involved in something like Titans is one of the best things you’ll ever do.
“The LGBT community in football is growing, and it’s clubs like Titans that are the very visible part of that. But there are also those who aren’t visible, and we all talk and look out for one another.”