“First game. First assist. What a win.”
It was a successful Saturday afternoon for footballer Jake Daniels, who posted with positivity to his Instagram story after making his debut for Bradford Park Avenue.
Back in May 2022, Daniels’ name was everywhere when at the age of just 17, he came out publicly as gay — the first active male professional soccer player in England to take such a step for 32 years.
Daniels wanted to start his pro career by being true to himself and to “help others come out if they want to”, a courageous and commendable decision that drew support from people across sports.
It’s tough enough to make it in the hypercompetitive world of men’s football and nearly two years later, Daniels has already had a very different journey to his peers. He has around 125,000 followers across social media, for starters.
Since coming out, he has been playing in the development squad for his club Blackpool FC, turning out in regional fixtures in England north-west.
Alongside that have been interviews with major media outlets, appearances at awards shows, and even being the subject of intense online discourse about his relationship.
Speaking to Attitude Magazine in October, Daniels reflected on the benefits of going public, saying: “It was just a nice feeling for me to be able to come out and live my life how I wanted to and kick on with football.”
Now, having just celebrated his 19th birthday, he has gone out on a month’s loan to a club struggling in the seventh tier — four levels below Blackpool.
In his first game, he came off the bench in the 70th minute and set up the winner for Bradford Park Avenue in a 3-2 victory away to Warrington Rylands.
Avenue head coach Danny Whitaker said post-match that he thought Daniels was “excellent”, adding: “He’s got a lot to come.”
In front of 325 fans, it’s a far cry from red carpets and front-page headlines, but what won’t have changed is the goodwill from the community of LGBTQ people and allies towards the teenager.
Daniels told the Daily Star in December: “Obviously I am a gay footballer and I have got support from so many different people, but at the end of the day, I am just a footballer and I just want to be a professional footballer. That is my main focus.
“I wouldn’t say there is a lot of pressure, it’s just to prove to people that I am a good footballer.”
Here are the three goals that secured our victory against @RylandsFC, full Inside Matchday will be out tomorrow!— Bradford (Park Avenue) AFC (@BPAFCOfficial) February 4, 2024
We're on the road to 1k on our @YouTube channel, so get subscribed now! https://t.co/LLfa9rO6xy pic.twitter.com/izAwSFtkGp
Meanwhile, Zander Murray — another member of the small group of active male pro footballers to have come out anywhere in the world — was also able to celebrate a debut three points on Saturday.
The Scottish striker, 32, recently announced his intention to retire from playing at the end of the current season. He came out as gay in September 2022 and stepped up to play in the Scottish Professional Football League with Bonnyrigg Rose before briefly rejoining his former club, Gala Fairydean Rovers.
On Monday, sixth-tier club Kirkintilloch Rob Roy in the West of Scotland Football League Premier Division announced they had recruited Murray.
He went on to score in a 4-1 home win over Pollok that put his new team into the quarterfinals of the South Challenge Cup.
Debut goal— Zander Murray (@ZanderMurray) February 3, 2024
Quarter final to come
Sue perb https://t.co/ZORWhfGBST
Murray spoke to Outsports in December about the enjoyment he takes from delivering educational sessions based upon his experiences in football.
At a recent session organized by PFA Scotland, the players’ union, and charity TIE, he spoke to team captains at pro clubs across the country to mark what is LGBT+ History Month in the UK and also the annual Month of Action for the Football v Homophobia campaign.
“When I came out, I didn’t realize how much this side of things would evolve and develop into a career path,” he said.
“But I’ve always enjoyed public speaking, especially when it’s something I’m passionate about.”