Justin Fashanu: The Tragic Story of England’s One-Time Child Prodigy

He dreams of a great career. But when he has the courage to come out, Justin Fashanu experiences hell on earth – and commits suicide.

This article originally appeared in March 2020. On the occasion of the protest against hatred and agitation, SPOX and Goal commemorate the former English professional footballer.

“And the day will come when we will all raise our glasses, float through the ceiling, celebrate with a toast, to the first one who grabs it, the bravest of them all”, sings Marcus Wiebusch, singer of the Hamburg indie Rock band Kettcar, in his epoch-making “The day will come”, which thematizes being gay as a professional footballer and outlines the difficulties associated with it. The honorable hope, the appeal: In today’s enlightened society, it shouldn’t matter whether a football player is homosexual or heterosexual.

And yet no active professional has come out in Germany, the most prominent of his guild who made his homosexuality public, Thomas Hitzlsperger, did so after his career. But why is it still taboo – especially in football – to stand by it? “Foreign ministers, pop stars and rugby players show that it works,” says Wiebusch. The first, the sung-praised “bravest of all”, took place in England 27 years ago: Justin Fashanu’s coming out and the resulting consequences have unfortunately always served as a deterrent precedent.

A backyard in London’s East End, dark red brick walls hopelessly braced against the weeds that overgrown the old mortar. A massive yellow steel door, the rust blooming, above it a bay window with thin window panes, the light blue paint is peeling off. An inconspicuous piece of earth in the industrial district of Shoreditch.

On May 3, 1998, the police found Fashanu’s body inside the building, behind the yellow-painted steel door. The ex-professional is hanging from a wooden beam with an electric cable around his neck. Suicide. Not far from the place of discovery, the son of Nigerian parents had been in a good mood hours earlier, as witnesses interviewed at the time assert, showed in the gay club “Chariots”.

Death in the garage and farewell letter

Hopefully if anyone finds this note I’ll be gone. Being gay and a public figure is tough. I want to say I didn’t rape the boy. He willingly had sex with me, but the next day he asked for money. When I said no, he said, ‘Just wait!’ If so, I hear you say, then why did I run away? Well, justice is not always fair. I felt that I wasn’t going to get a fair trial because of my homosexuality. You know what it’s like when you panic. Before I inflict further misfortune on my friends and family, I’d rather die. I hope the Jesus I love welcomes me. At least I’ll find peace.

The “boy” Fashanu refers to is the then 17-year-old Donald H., whom Justin met while coaching Maryland Mania in the United States. Fashanu spreads the rumor that he is the owner of the club and enjoys the admiration that meets him. So also the Reverenz Donalds, who after an alcohol and marijuana-impregnated, excessive party in Fashanu’s house claims that the ex-professional has attacked him. Two days after the alleged incident, Fashanu is surprised by the police, the officers ask the perplexed Englishman whether he is gay and whether he has had sex with the teenager. Fashanu says no and is not taken into custody for lack of evidence.

However, the press got wind of the allegations that Donald raises against Fashanu in the media. Again and again the gazettes scatter that an international arrest warrant is being sought for the former boy wonder, even Scotland Yard is participating in the search. Fear of the authorities, Fashanu piled back to England, quickly adopted his mother’s maiden name “Lawrence” – and only a few days later made the decision to put an end to his life. Shortly after the suicide, it turns out that the innumerable reports of an alleged global investigation against Fashanu are false reports, and the case had long since been filed by the American authorities.

The end of a tragic life that began so promisingly: At the age of 19, the youngster in the service of Norwich City caused a sensation on the island when he took a technically demanding pass from his teammate with the right instep against Liverpool FC, wraps around an opponent and sinks the ball in the corner with a wonderful left-footed shot.

The man with the number nine refrains from excessive cheers, turns around without changing a face and extends his forefinger towards the sky. As if it were the most normal thing in the world. A scene that lets Fashanu advance to a sought-after superstar almost from one second to the next. The artistic goal was voted the goal of the 1979/80 season by the British program “Match of the Day”.

Goal of the 1979/80 season

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