Scottish referees Craig Napier and Lloyd Wilson have come out as gay in a bid to see a “climate change” in football after being inspired by Jake Daniels and Josh Cavallo.
Napier, 32, a category one referee, becomes the first openly gay figure in Scottish men’s professional football since Justin Fashanu played for Airdrie and Hearts in the mid-1990s, several years after announcing his sexuality.
He was quickly followed in coming out by fellow official Wilson, who officiates in Scotland’s lower leagues.
In a video on the Scottish Football Association’s Twitter account, Napier said he wanted to help remove the “stigma” and “fear” that others in his position may feel about revealing their sexuality.
“It’s something that I never thought I would be sitting here doing,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve obviously lived with for a long time. It’s been a difficult journey to get to this point, but over the last couple of years, it’s become a lot easier.
“I don’t think this needs to be a news story but I think, at the moment, it really does because we need to see the climate change so that people do feel that they can be their true self and live happily and comfortably in their own skin, and that needs to transcend into football.
“I remember reading the newspapers when Tom Daley came out and I was so inspired but not inspired enough where I felt confident enough that I could then come out because I thought ‘diving isn’t the same as football’. There is something about football at the moment. There’s still that barrier.
“I’m involved in lots of spheres in life whether it be social, whether it be at my work in the NHS, whether it be at university where I also work and I’m entirely comfortable. Football is different and I think that’s why these conversations are important because we need to change that culture. There are no footballers on the pitch that are open but they are there.
“Until we have these conversations and have these role models on the pitch, there will be that stigma, that fear and that’s what we need to change and I hope that we can do that by having these conversations.”
Wilson believes football is “prepared and ready” for more people to come out publicly as gay and “good inroads” are being made as the game becomes more inclusive.
“There are people watching the game, week-in, week-out, there are people playing the game, there are people coaching the game, working in the game who are petrified even, and I hope that if my story encourages even one person then I’ve done a good job,” Wilson told Sky Sports News.
“I think now I can walk about the streets not having to be feeling as though I’m different. That needs to be normalised now and we’re starting to make good inroads, the evidence I think is there. Football I hope is prepared and ready for it and I’m pretty certain Scottish football is.”
Napier and Wilson said they were inspired by Jake Daniels, who became the first active professional men’s player in the UK to come out as gay since Fashanu in 1990 in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports last month, and Josh Cavallo, the Adelaide United player who also previously revealed he is gay.
Napier said: “There will be people who might say this doesn’t need to be in the news, a gay sportsperson doesn’t need to be on the back pages or on social media. But I think it’s important for people in the LGBT community to hear these conversations, to say ‘yeah, that’s similar to my journey’.
“I think that it’s been really inspiring to see what’s happened recently – Josh Cavallo and Jake Daniels more recently. It’s positive to see Jake, at the age of 17, announcing to everyone his sexuality and I think that many people will take inspiration from that.
“But they might also think, ‘I’m not sure I’m brave enough to take that step. What if my friends don’t accept me? What if my family rejects my sexuality?’. What I wanted to add to the conversation was that I’ve never had a bad experience when I’ve had these conversations.
“I’ve always felt so much lighter after speaking about it. This isn’t a conversation about me – this is a conversation about trying to change the culture in Scottish football.”
Wilson added: “This hasn’t just been on a whim. This has been prepared in for quite some time. But I think Josh Cavallo is a name that absolutely has contributed to this, Jake Daniels too, 17-years-old, that’s absolutely incredible. Jake has definitely contributed to how I’m feeling and how I feel I can do what I’m doing. And actually, Josh is one of the people who has reached out to me today.
“I’ve not even responded to his message yet, and so it just shows you the kind of power that’s out there and not just Josh. There’s lots of other high-profile names that have reached out, and the support has been immense and as a referee, you very rarely get support so it’s good to get that.
“The reaction that I’ve had – I’m really shocked by. The reaction has been exceptional, I’ve not had one negative comment. That was what I was really fearing. I’m bracing myself that they may come, I’m not naive enough to think that something might not come.
“But why now? 17 years of silence, 17 years of living a way that I haven’t wanted to live, you can only live like that for so long. I’ve got a partner of about a year, Hamish, who’s been an incredible support and an incredible in encouraging this. So that’s why I’m doing this now.”
Napier added: “It’s a lot of wasted energy, worrying about whether you’re going to lose friends over it, whether you’re not going to get promoted in refereeing because of it or whether you’re not going to get selected for the first team because of it.
“Josh and Jake are changing that and hopefully here in Scotland I can play a small part in hoping that it can inspire whoever is out there to be more comfortable in who they are and have the conversations with their family, friends, team-mates and come out publicly if they feel able to.
“I think people will be better served enjoying their life and living their true self. That’s the message that I want people to take away from this conversation.”
Atkin: ‘They can now be their authentic selves’
Ryan Atkin, the first referee to come out as gay five years ago, told Sky Sports News: ”I think that a lot of it is relief and I think there is a massive weight off your shoulders.
”What a better time for both Craig and Lloyd to come out during Pride month.
”We have had a number of individuals over the years come out and I think in terms of an officiating point of view, it does feel like we are leading the way when it comes to officials being comfortable enough to be their authentic selves.
”We also show that actually it’s ok to be a gay man in professional football.”