Footballers Jahmal Howlett-Mundle and Matt Morton came out as bi and gay respectively in English football in recent years. | Sam Rees

European champions Manchester City had just taken the latest step towards retaining their title when viewers in the U.K. were asked to stay tuned for a new documentary about being LGBTQ in soccer.

The eponymous presenter of “Rylan: Football, Homophobia and Me” is a household name in Britain who worked his way up from reality TV to being trusted with some of the nation’s favorite entertainment shows.

He’s also a passionate West Ham supporter who enjoys attending Premier League games, when his busy schedule allows. And he’s an out gay man.

As he explains in the documentary, produced by Buzz 16 for TNT Sports, there are often one or two idiots who want to shout homophobic slurs at him when he watches the Hammers.

He puts them in their place, if he can be bothered. It’s tiresome but there is a bigger picture here. When Rylan was a teenager, he was attacked and hospitalized in what would now be considered an anti-gay hate crime.

His description of that harrowing moment and other shared memories — some happy, some sad — give this program a very personal touch, setting it apart from other documentaries on the topic.

Even on the same day as the Rylan film aired in the U.K., Prime Video in Germany had the premiere of “The Last Taboo”, which includes a retelling of the Justin Fashanu story and a new interview with Collin Martin.

Matt Morton, the player-boss of Thetford Town FC, appears in both documentaries. Rylan introduces him by saying “this is what a gay manager looks like” (stood on the touchline, urging on his players, respected by everyone) while in the German film, Morton opens up about how the 18-month period between realizing he was gay and coming out publicly was “difficult, lonely, stressful, and dark”.

I also pop up on screen for a chat with Rylan about the media’s role and there’s an uplifting conversation between the presenter and Jahmal Howlett-Mundle, who currently plays for Sevenoaks Town FC at the level above Morton in the English football pyramid.

Howlett-Mundle is the first player to have come through a Premier League club academy set-up and then later come out; a video of him telling his then teammates that he is bisexual went viral in July 2021 after he gave permission for it to be posted on social media.

In the documentary, Howlett-Mundle shows presenter Rylan his coming-out video.

After the program first aired on Tuesday night, the three of us got together for a chat on the Football v Homophobia Podcast, and I asked Morton why he felt it was important to take part in these documentaries (this is the fourth he has contributed to since coming out).

“I’m a very strong character, very alpha male, very stubborn and old school,” he says.

“I think I can get through anything on my own, almost to my detriment sometimes. And yet I look at that 18-month period of my life and remember how low I was and how much that affected me.

“The idea of somebody going through that without any support, without any reference point, without anybody that they could reach out to, is a scary thought. And it’s a big motivator.”

Morton explains in “The Last Taboo” that he has exchanged DMs and emails with several fellow footballers who are at different stages of struggling with their sexuality and need confidentiality. He doesn’t have much spare time, with both a day job and a football club to manage, but he will always make himself available to help those who relate to his story.

Howlett-Mundle is a centre-back like Morton, and both men admit that in their youth, they were aggressive and argumentative, pushing back against authority figures on and off the pitch. They are still fiercely competitive now, but they channel that fire more constructively having been through their journeys of self-acceptance.

In previous interviews, the Sevenoaks player has spoken about his mental health and how he pursued an on-field incident through the courts.

On the podcast, he says how a particular moment in the documentary resonated with him. A psychiatrist asks Rylan about the difference between his celebrity persona and what he is like when the cameras are off. It’s not that the presenter isn’t authentic, but he has to wear a certain amount of “armour” to do his job and protect himself.

“When I first came out, that first season, I felt as though I didn’t have to have my guard up,” says Howlett-Mundle. “I didn’t have to have a mask on.

“I didn’t feel like I had to hide who I was, and that was the first time in my life I’ve ever felt like that.

“So hearing Rylan speak about his experiences and having to essentially have that suit of armour on, to be able to go out… I really feel that. That’s the place that I’ve been before.”

Morton and Howlett-Mundle are members of the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective. | Sam Rees

It’s why Morton won’t pretend that playing or managing as an out gay man in front of a crowd in the hundreds, such as they get at Thetford, is comparable to being a Premier League star walking out in a stadium of 50,000 fans and with millions of followers on social media.

He knows that some of the closeted gay and bi footballers who he exchanges messages with will never come out, or at least, not publicly. But he is hopeful that some will, and he believes the power of TV to raise awareness lets others know they can reach out too.

“You’ve got a captive audience there, more than you would in certain other forms of media,” he says. “And we often struggle more when trying to engage those outside of our community.

“TV is a really good way of breaking through that and disrupting it because most people, I would imagine, that watch these documentaries won’t necessarily be from the community that’s being spoken about.

“That’s why it’s so powerful, and it helps us to solve that problem of how we are perceived.

“Before you can educate, you have to have awareness. Add entertainment into that, and people really start to take notice.”

Morton and Howlett-Mundle are both members of the LGBTQ+ Professionals in Football Collective, an industry network for people from the community who are out in the game.

This is a group for those on the other side of the sport’s closet door, with around 50 members so far, and it’s helping those involved stay up to speed with what’s going on in inclusion.

“There are LGBTQ people out there who are doing amazing work,” says Howlett-Mundle. “Being exposed to that information and knowledge is such a good learning experience more than anything, because there’s so much that happens behind the scenes on a day-to-day basis that I may not be aware of.”

Morton agrees. “We are often the ones asked to go on camera but it’s all that good work that provides us with the ability to do what we do.

“That shouldn’t go unnoticed and I hope that when LGBTQ people in sports watch documentaries like this, it gives them a sense of pride as to what they’ve done for the community as well.”

“Rylan: Football, Homophobia and Me” is available to watch on Discovery+ in the U.K., while “The Last Taboo” is on Prime Video in Germany.

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