An assistant manager for a soccer team in England has come out as gay, saying he has received great support from the team and players but been shunned by some family and friends.
Connor Natella coaches with New Milton Town football club in the Wessex Football League and has been with the club since last July. He began coming out at age 20 in December 2013 and told about his journey in a first-person article in the Bournemouth Daily Echo. He said he "fell in love with football before I even knew what love was" and afraid he would not be able to be gay in soccer. Those fears were allayed in a meeting with his now-head coach.
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I met with Callum Brooks, who I'd met through working at AFC Bournemouth, and he was manager at New Milton. The meeting went without a hitch. It was clear we shared the same ambitions and had similar ideas in terms of coaching and management.
Eventually, Callum asked the question I'd been dreading, "are you gay?".
For the first time, I felt I had nowhere to hide. I responded with a simple, "yes, I am".
I half expected him to leave, but he didn't. He did the opposite. He asked me whether I was worried if people would react badly and, when I said I was, he told me, "it's your battle to fight and you have to stand up to it if it happens, but you'll do it with myself and the club behind you."
Fast forward to now and we're in the thick of a promotion race. The players have been nothing but supportive and I've never felt more comfortable about my sexuality than I do now and that is largely down to the support given to me by those in the game so far.
While those in the sport have been supportive to Natella, his father has shunned him, as have some friends. He is speaking out to promote the Football v Homophobia campaign and was eloquent on the difficulties gay athletes and coaches face.
"I shouldn't have had to consider my future in the game because of something completely irrelevant to it. I shouldn't have had to hide my identity for so long. It is a real issue and it turns people away from the game all the time. If you think that there aren't LGBT players at every level of the football pyramid, you are frankly kidding yourself."
The whole story is well worth reading. Bravo to Natella for coming out and I am certain he will be an inspiration to others in a sport that is slowly battling longstanding homophobia.
Note: The original article referred to the Wessex League as a pro league. Just A Ballgame?, which fights homophobia in soccer, tweeted us this correction: "Wessex Leagues are steps 9+10 in English Amateur Leagues."