Justin Fashanu signed his first professional football contract for Norwich City in December 1978, aged 17.
A talented striker, his 1980 volley against Liverpool was ‘Goal of the Season’. He scored 19 league goals during the 1980/81 season for Norwich.
He was transferred to Nottingham Forest – the first black player to cost £1,000,000
His transfer to Forest didn’t work out. Playing for a number of other clubs he never fulfilled his potential.
Fashanu was a bundle of contradictions. A black child raised in a white community, he was a born-again Christian and a teetotaller.
He was arrogant, claiming and later denying that he had affairs with both celebrities and members of parliament.
He confronted National Front supporters in a pub and broke the jaw of one of them…
Fashanu was openly gay despite pressure to keep his sexuality secret
At a time when football hooliganism was at its peak a black gay footballer was the focus of much abuse.
He is still the only professional top-level footballer to come out publicly in England.
A sad end
In 1998, Fashanu’s body was found in an East London garage.
A suicide note read: ‘I wish that I was more of a good son, brother, uncle and friend. But I tried my best this seems to be a really hard world.
I hope that Jesus, that I love, welcomes me home. I will at last find peace… Being gay and a personality is so hard….
I want to die rather than put my friends and family through any more unhappiness.’
The Justin Fashanu Foundation works to confront prejudice within football, supports those suffering with mental health issues and has a special focus on the LGBT community.
His colour, sexuality, faith, suicide and contradictions leave as many questions and challenges today as they did 20 years ago.