Justinus Soni “Justin” Fashanu (19 February 1961 – 2 May 1998) was an English footballer who played for a variety of clubs between 1978 and 1997. He was known by his early clubs to be gay, and came out to the press later in his career, becoming the first and one of only two English professional footballers to be openly gay. He was also the first black footballer to command a £1million transfer fee, with his transfer from Norwich City to Nottingham Forest in 1981, but had little success as a player afterwards, although he continued to play at senior level until 1994.
After moving to the United States, in 1998 he was questioned by police when a seventeen-year-old boy accused him of sexual assault, for which he was charged,and an arrest warrant for him was issued in Howard County, Maryland on 3 April 1998, but he had already left his flat. According to his suicide note, fearing he would not get a fair trial because of his homosexuality, he fled to England where he killed himself in London in May 1998. His suicide note stated that the sex was consensual.
Fashanu was the son of a Nigerian barrister living in the UK and a Guyanese nurse called Pearl.When his parents split up, he and his brother, John, were sent to a Barnardo’s home. When he was six, he and his brother were fostered by Alf and Betty Jackson and were brought up in Shropham near Attleborough, Norfolk. Justin Fashanu excelled at boxing as a youth, and was rumoured at one time to be pursuing a professional boxing career instead of his footballing career.
Fashanu began his career as an apprentice with Norwich City, turning professional towards the end of December 1978. He made his league debut on 13 January 1979, against West Bromwich Albion, and settled into the Norwich side scoring regularly and occasionally spectacularly. In 1980, he won the BBC Goal of the Season award, for a spectacular goal against Liverpool. He managed a total of 103 senior appearance for Norwich, scoring 40 goals. While at the club he was also capped six times for England at under-21 level.
He subsequently became Britain’s first £1million black footballer when he transferred to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in August 1981 as successor to the departing Trevor Francis.
His career stalled as his professional relationship with Brian Clough deteriorated; Clough, it would appear, was disturbed by the rumours of Justin Fashanu’s visits to gay nightclubs and bars. His goals and then confidence dried up as he failed to fit in with the playing and lifestyle demands of Clough, especially after Clough had discovered his homosexuality and barred him from training with the side.
In March 1998, a seventeen-year-old claimed to police that he had been sexually assaulted by Fashanu after a night of drinking. Homosexual acts were illegal in the US State of Maryland at the time, and the youth stated the act was not consensual but being performed as he awoke. The assault was alleged to have taken place in Fashanu’s apartment in Ellicott City, Maryland, United States. Fashanu was questioned about this by the police on 3 April, but he was not held in custody. The police later arrived at his flat with a warrant to arrest him on charges of second-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault, and second-degree assault, but Fashanu had already fled to England.
On the morning of 3 May, he was found hanged in a deserted lock-up garage he had broken into, in Shoreditch, London, after visiting Chariots Roman Spa, a local gay sauna. In his suicide note, he denied the charges, stating that the sex was consensual,and that he had fled to England because he felt he could not get a fair trial because of his homosexuality, and he added: “I realised that I had already been presumed guilty. I do not want to give any more embarrassment to my friends and family.” An inquest held in London through 9 September heard evidence from a Scotland Yard detective that the Americans made no request for Fashanu to be found or arrested, and the Coroner stated that he was not a wanted man at the time he hanged himself. The Times and the BBC reported that an arrest warrant had been issued by Howard County District Court on 3 April, that he had been charged with second-degree sexual assault and first-degree and second-degree assaults punishable by up to 20 years in jail, and that Howard County police would have requested his extradition had they known he fled to England. The inquest recorded a verdict of suicide.
Fashanu’s remains were cremated and his ashes given to his family in Norfolk.
John Fashanu later regretted some of the comments he made when his brother first came out.In an interview with TalkSPORT in 2012, John Fashanu subsequently claimed his brother was not gay and was merely an attention seeker.
Sourced from: Sightsview facts page.