Liam Davis will make history when he runs out at Wembley for the FA Vase final on Sunday afternoon – but despite his role in tackling one of football’s great taboos, he won’t be shouting about it from the rooftops.
Instead, he’ll merely hope his appearance can persuade a silent minority to take a brave step forward.
Davis came out as gay at the age of 18 and hit the headlines, albeit briefly, in January 2014 while at Gainsborough Trinity when he posted a tweet following Thomas Hitzlsperger’s decision to come out.
The former Aston Villa midfielder made his announcement having already retired. Davis, though, is about to experience the highlight of his own career having helped his hometown club Cleethorpes to the biggest day in their short, 20-year history.
The statistics suggest Davis will be far from the first gay footballer to play at one of the sport’s most iconic venues – a reality not lost on a winger who insists that his experience since his sexuality became widely known has been nothing but positive.
“I’ve been out since I was an 18-year-old so it’s nothing new,” he said.
“I’ve been out a lot longer than people think, it has never really been something I’ve had to discuss with team-mates, even when I was at Gainsborough – everybody knew but I didn’t know everybody knew. It got spoken about on a team night out but that was about it.
“There hasn’t been any negatives from my point of view.
At the club you’re at everybody will back you up. I’ve had a couple of comments from opposition players but they’ve been nipped in the bud
“It gets bigger and bigger the higher up you go. I can’t speak for someone playing in front of more fans but from my experience I’ve had no problems and don’t think I ever will do.”
That experience mirrors that of Anton Hysen, the son of former Liverpool defender, Glynn, who also said that he had experienced little or no hostility since he made the decision to come out back in 2011.
In November, FA chairman Greg Clarke said that gay English footballers would be “taking a risk” if they followed the example set by Davis, Hysen and Hitzlsperger. Arguably, given the unforgiving nature and earthy cut and thrust of football away from the bright lights of the Premier League,
Davis was the one taking the bigger chance when he came out at the very start of his non-league career after leaving Grimsby Town at the age of 18. A short time after Clarke’s comments, the Wembley arch was lit up in rainbow colours as a show of support for Stonewall’s campaign to tackle homophobia in football.
Fitting, therefore, that Davis has provided the governing body with its perfect poster boy before the season is out.
Making a difference So will his appearance under the arch make a lasting difference? “I can see both sides of it – I can understand why players haven’t [come out] but when they do, there’ll be a lot more that follow, I’m sure of that,” he says.
“They’ll get the backing but it does depend on who’s telling them what. Top-level footballers are puppets, they get told what they are allowed to do, what they aren’t allowed to do, what’s good for their careers and what isn’t good for their careers.
“If what they’re getting told means they won’t come out then so be it but there should be players coming out.
“Although they’re obviously not doing so for a reason. If it does happen then great but I still keep thinking year after year that this will be the time and it’s still not.
“I worked it out in a previous interview – the likelihood of there being no gay footballers – and statistics-wise, it just doesn’t add up.”
With running two restaurants in his home town – the Point Café and Point Plus Café – Davis has had plenty to occupy his mind in the run-up to the final against South Shields. And the thought of being the first gay footballer at English football’s headquarters has barely entered his head. “I’ll have a little giggle about it when one of my mates mentions it but I won’t be walking out there waving a gay pride flag,” he says, laughing.
For English football it will represent a red letter day and Davis has already pushed the envelope. Whether anyone follows his lead remains to be seen.