Mikey Connor is a huge football fan as well as being a referee, which makes him an unusual LGBTQ influencer. | Picture courtesy of Mikey Connor

Mikey Connor is a soccer referee who has become a social media influencer since appearing on Britain’s first gay reality dating show.

A year ago, he was one of 10 guys who had just been announced as contestants on the BBC’s “I Kissed A Boy” ahead of its premiere on national TV.

“I’m just a lad from Liverpool, who happens to like football and have been on a gay TV show — I don’t see myself as any sort of role model.”

A proud Scouser, Mikey was introduced at the end of the first episode, adding a dash of “sporty spice” to the mix. He was soon getting snogs, helping to ensure the show more than lived up to its title.

Filmed at a luxury masseria in southern Italy and hosted by Dannii Minogue, there was a lot to love for LGBTQ audiences but the format also had more depth than many had expected, with the boys opening up on issues such as body image, discrimination within the gay community, religion and mental health.

It got strong reviews. Although Mikey didn’t end up finding romance himself, he did win the hearts of viewers with his humor and honesty — not least when discussing his battle with testicular cancer.

Twelve months on, he has more than 200,000 followers across TikTok, Instagram and X. And he continues to make an impact. He’s also been raising money for charity Cancer Research UK in what is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month.

Mikey initially found a small lump while traveling abroad, but being young and healthy (he used to play football at semi-pro level) meant he didn’t think it wasn’t anything serious. It caused him some achiness but he managed to put it out of his mind.

However, upon returning home to Liverpool, the pain intensified — and after Mikey went to see his doctor, the then-27-year-old soon found himself on the operating table.

Doctors removed the testicle and discovered it was indeed cancerous. By this time, Mikey had already been signed up to appear on the TV show, so he jetted off to Italy for filming and described how “scary” it had all been in a conversation with the guys.

That wasn’t the end of the story.

Soon after filming concluded, doctors informed Mikey there was a 25% chance of the cancer returning. He decided to take a course of chemotherapy, which was physically grueling and even caused him panic attacks.

His health improved over the following weeks. When “I Kissed A Boy” finally aired in May and June 2023, the on-screen chat about the need for guys to check their balls got attention. 

Testicular cancer is the most common type of cancer in guys and those assigned male at birth who are aged 15 to 34 but it can strike at older age too. Each year, around 2,400 people in the UK and nearly 10,000 in the US are diagnosed with it. The good news is that when detected early, 99% of cases can be cured.

The BBC got Mikey back on for an update about his story. Since then, his profile as an influencer has boomed, leading to work as a sports presenter too.

He never hides his passion for football — he’s a huge Everton and England fan — and often posts about officiating in local leagues in and around Liverpool.

Combined with his approachable, “boy next door” personality, he bucks a lot of stereotypes about being gay, especially for other guys who relate to him. As a result, his DMs are often busy.

“The amount of people that have messaged me, it’s crazy really,” he tells Outsports.

It’s been on the football pitch where Mikey has occasionally felt nervous about people possibly knowing he’s gay. At the level at which he referees, he’s sometimes the only appointed official which makes the role rather isolated.

In one recent game though, he outed himself almost by accident during an on-field chat with a player who had accused an opponent of using homophobic language.

“I didn’t hear it, so I couldn’t take action,” he explains. “But the player was really on at me about it.

“And for the first time ever on a football pitch, I found myself saying to him, ‘Look, I’ve not heard it, but if I did, I’d take exception because I’m gay myself.’”

Jonny’s journey

Mikey has also been pleasantly surprised at how just being in the public eye has given him the chance to support others in their battles.

He gets sent a lot of messages but one in particular sticks out in his recent memory. “A guy called Jonny emailed the address in my Instagram bio to say he’d found a lump and was going to have an operation, and wanted to ask me a couple of questions about it.

“I tried to just give him some words of advice, to help him relax. Obviously, I’ve been in that position before and it’s not a nice feeling.

“The day after, he emailed to say it went well but that he would have to go through chemotherapy. I knew he must follow my socials but I hadn’t seen a picture of him.

“Then a few weeks ago, I was scrolling through Twitter, and there’s this picture of this lad Jonny, holding a sign saying “Last Chemo!””

The man who started emailing Mikey several months ago was Jonny King, a 25-year-old from Brighton who works in recruitment.

After having a testicle removed, he was told he would need at least three cycles of chemotherapy, which was “gutting news” — losing his hair was one side-effect that impacted on his mental health.

Having now completed the chemo course, and with his blood work stable, King is helping others too. He was documenting his own story on his socials which led to media opportunities in April in association with another charity, Macmillan.

He tells Outsports he is grateful to have had encouragement from Mikey.

“When I watched the show, I thought it was great he was talking about testicular cancer — then flash forward a few months and I find my lump.”

Jonny believes there’s also something significant about reaching out to somebody who’s not a close friend.

“You want to be able to lean on people and that can sometimes be strangers that you don’t know but who have had a shared experience, like with me contacting Mikey.

“Being in our 20s, our generation isn’t really subject to cancer like in other age groups where it’s more common. My friends found it more difficult in a way, because they hadn’t been equipped with the knowledge of how to support someone with a cancer diagnosis.”

‘The power to talk’

These stories give Mikey a sense of perspective, having found LGBTQ fame through reality TV and now pursuing ambitions as a football referee.

He feels he has a realistic chance of working his way up the ladder to became a professional match official, more likely as an assistant ref.

However, he’s also enjoying the sports media and other broadcasting opportunities that are coming his way. At some point, he will have to decide which road to go down.

Until then, he’ll continue to be that “lad from Liverpool” who’s out to entertain and encourage people to make the most of whatever life sends their way.

“Every single person can have an influence,” he says. “If there’s something that’s special to you, wear it with pride.”

You can follow Mikey Connor on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, and Jonny King on Instagram and Twitter. If you’d like to donate to Mikey’s Cancer Research UK fundraiser for Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, click here.