Justinus Soni “Justin” Fashanu was an English football player (soccer for those in the USA) who played for a variety of ball clubs between 1978 and 1997. He rose to fame in 1980 after scoring the goal of the season against Liverpool, leading a generation of black footballers through the English league.
Abandoned as a child and raised by a white foster family in the UK, he faced plenty of uphill battles. But despite bigotry and bullying from unruly football fans during the Thatcher era, Fashanu blazed his own trail by also, later in his career, becoming the first professional footballer to be openly gay.
He was also the first black footballer to command a £1 million (about $1.3 million) 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. He was charged and an arrest warrant for him was issued in Howard County, Maryland, on April 3, 1998. According to a suicide note he left behind, fearing that he would not get a fair trial because of his homosexuality, Fashanu fled to England where he killed himself in London in May 1998.
He had the talent, swagger and charisma to become one of the most celebrated athletes Britain had ever seen. And now, through unprecedented access to coaches, teammates and family, filmmakers Adam Darke and Jon Carey tell Fashanu’s life story in feature documentary “Forbidden Games,” which just made its world premiere at the HotDocs film festival in Toronto, which ended yesterday.
In the film, the directors unpack a most fascinating and ultimately tragic sports story, exploring Fashanu’s battle with issues of race and sexuality in professional sports, as well as his tenuous relationship with the spotlight.
The film has only just begun revealing itself to the world, as it begins its film festival circuit travels. No Stateside dates announced yet.