Tormented football star Justin Fashanu wrote to Tory MP and begged the Church to ‘cure’ his homosexuality four years before he came out, poignant unseen letters reveal
When Jake Daniels came out last week, becoming English football’s first openly gay player in over 30 years, he was widely praised for his ‘inspirational’ courage and bravery.
It was a heartening reminder of how the world, and the sport, has moved on during the three decades since striker Justin Fashanu made history by opening up about his own sexuality, in more hostile times.
Now, never-before-seen letters written by the late Norwich City, and Nottingham Forest star reveal how tormented Fashanu was about the secret he’d kept for so long.
The handwritten letters from 1986 – four years before he came out in a newspaper interview – make for poignant reading today amid the outpouring of support for Daniels, 17.
Deeply personal in tone, they provide a moving snapshot of the shame Fashanu felt at being gay, and at how uncomfortably it sat with his Christian faith.
When Jake Daniels came out last week, becoming English football’s first openly gay player in over 30 years, he was widely praised for his ‘inspirational’ courage and bravery
Fashanu also played for Brighton and in a letter written on the club’s headed notepaper to his friend, the Tory MP David Atkinson, he reveals he sought solace from the Church and the Old Testament in order to turn his back on homosexuality.
And with haunting prescience given his eventual suicide 12 years later, he outlines his understanding that being gay could, according to conservative biblical doctrine, only result in ‘certain death’.
‘Having prayed hard the facts are as follows,’ Fashanu, then 25, wrote. ‘Christ says that Homosexual activities will lead people to death, no question about that, but he also goes on to say that he can purifie [sic] people from that kind of sin as well as any other kind!! It also says that you sin against your own body when you commit this act (or acts) so yes you can be set totaly [sic] free from this sin if you want to be, that is the real question, do you want to be free from this.
Fashanu also played for Brighton and in a letter written on the club’s headed notepaper to his friend, the Tory MP David Atkinson, he reveals he sought solace from the Church and the Old Testament in order to turn his back on homosexuality
‘If you know the result is certain death, then I think you should think very carefully about the question.’
Fashanu and his younger brother John, also a pro footballer, went into care when their parents split. They were fostered by Alf and Betty Jackson in Norfolk, and Fashanu described in his biography wearing a cassock to take part in a carol service at Norwich Cathedral with the couple ‘watching proudly’.
In his interview with The Sun in 1990, Britain’s first £1million black footballer claimed to have ‘bedded a Tory MP’ he’d met in a London gay bar. It was later reported that Mr Atkinson, who was MP for Bournemouth East, was the politician in the article – the MP admitted as much to his wife Susan. They divorced in 1992. He died in 2012.
But there remains doubt over whether Fashanu’s claims about the extent of their relationship may have been exaggerated. One source, who knew both men and to whom the MP confided his sexuality, thinks an affair unlikely.
Fashanu refers to guidance the MP himself (above) had received from his church and enclosed a leaflet which appears to tell the story of a man who resolves his homosexuality by embracing God
‘He said he had tried to initiate an affair, but that Fashanu turned him down. That makes it even sadder that Justin paid such a high price for something blown out of proportion.’
Uncovered after Mr Atkinson’s death by his son Anthony, the letters suggest Mr Atkinson was similarly conflicted about his sexuality.
Fashanu refers to guidance the MP himself had received from his church and enclosed a leaflet which appears to tell the story of a man who resolves his homosexuality by embracing God. ‘I think you will find it a real help,’ wrote Fashanu, and signed off: ‘Your friend, Justin.’ In a second letter, addressed to ‘Dave’, he says he ‘always prayed for you and have always known the Lord had put us together’.
Fashanu became the target of constant abuse after coming out and moved to America. He took his own life at 37, in a disused garage in London in 1998.
Weeks earlier he had been accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old in Maryland, where gay sex was illegal.
In a suicide note, Fashanu expressed fears he would not get a fair trial.
‘I realised I had already been presumed guilty,’ he wrote. ‘I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family.’
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