From here, Jake Daniels could be anything. He could play for England, he could end up in the reserves at Newport County. Wherever he goes, whatever he achieves, however, he will do it as his own man.
He will be free. He said as much on Monday. The weight that lifted from his shoulders as he told people who he was. The four goals against Accrington Stanley that clearly symbolise his release.
Daniels says he hopes to inspire others and, yesterday, he most surely did. His bravery in being the first out, gay, professional footballer in this country will matter. There may be a trickle, perhaps a torrent, but it is hard to imagine he will be alone for long.
Jake Daniels’ bravery in being the first out, gay, pro footballer in this country will matter
And then he, and everybody, can get on with their lives, as people get on as gay doctors, gay journalists, gay lawyers, gay accountants, gay men and women on the factory floor, in the office, at the shops.
It won’t be special anymore, it won’t be a story. Daniels says he knew he was different when he was six. What could be more normal, more truthful, than the raw emotions of a six-year-old?
Yet whether he’s a super star or a super journeyman as a footballer, what he cannot be allowed to become from here is Jake Daniels, the Gay Footballer. With Monday’s revelation there will be human interest in his story. We fascinate each other, that’s a species characteristic.
Daniels’ tale needed managing — and was handled extremely well — because it was plainly going to make him the centre of attention. That won’t subside for a while. The next time he plays there will be cameras, reporters, one hopes well-wishers, maybe the odd troll. Yet equally, there will be a time when he is just a footballer again, the way Sian Massey now just runs the line.
We will look back and recall when that was a big thing, gay footballers, and feel slightly embarrassed that our society made it that way.
Daniels must now return to being a normal teenager and focus on breaking into the first team
What it cannot be for this young man is a circus, with him in the ring. He can’t be the face of every campaign, the poster boy every time football wants to burnish its image. He has to go back to being a teenager trying to break into Blackpool’s first team. To being just Jake.
The impression was given yesterday that he is a 30-goal striker for a Championship club. He’s not. He’s a kid who has never started a first XI game for Blackpool and only came on as a substitute in the final match of the season, a 5-0 defeat to Peterborough. He did score 30 goals but in reserve and youth team matches.
He has spoken brilliantly so far but that doesn’t mean he is ready to be shot from a cannon into the world of celebrity. One of the reasons he came out was because a secret existence was causing mental health issues. No matter how well he is coming across now, there must be care, a lot of care.
Tom Daley is gay. Tom Daley is an Olympic gold medal winner. He’s not a gay Olympic gold medal winner. One does not inform the other. Just as the sexuality of all the straight male footballers — all bar one in this country, apparently — is not appended to their profiles as if significant.
Olympian Tom Daley (above) is not defined by his sexual orientation but for his achievements
Daniels has a contract with Adidas which suggests his agent is alive to the commercial opportunities but no problems there. As a pioneer, he is entitled to the spoils his courage brings. He’s a good-looking chap too, who probably looks fine in designer clothes. Nobody should begrudge him that side of the game.
Yet being the hero, the ground-breaker, the spokesman for a generation can be very wearing. Lewis Hamilton at times appears exhausted by it, when asked once again to be the conscience of Formula 1 as it hitches its wagon to another brutal regime.
This is where Daniels will need some protection. He cannot be the go-to guy every time football needs to look enlightened. Idrissa Gueye apparently refused to play for Paris Saint-Germain against Montpelier on Saturday, because his number was to be picked out in rainbow colours. What does Daniels think of that? Is he available for comment? Can he front our campaign?
A 17-year-old in Blackpool’s reserves cannot stand each day as a buffer against the forces of reaction. Would he watch a game in Qatar during the World Cup; would he sign for Newcastle United — or even play against them if drawn in the Carabao Cup? The decision he has made is for him, and to help others. It is not for us to place him on a pedestal where every move he makes has to be either politicised or inspirational. Football aches to be on the right side of history yet, free at least, all Daniels probably aches for is a chance in the first team.
Graeme Le Saux sometimes jokes that he had the experience of being the first gay footballer
Still, what an impressive and decent young man he sounded. Smart in knowing what he had to do to succeed in life and change it for the better, patient in waiting for the right time, courageous because he must know it makes him different. And football is not, traditionally, a friend of the different.
Graeme Le Saux sometimes jokes that he had the experience of being the first gay footballer, minus the sex. He smiles now, but at the time it was utterly harrowing, the worst kind of dressing-room bullying. There were so many rumours circulating, so many chants, the infamous public taunt from Robbie Fowler, that it nearly drove him out of the game.
He said he could fill two pages of his autobiography with the names of opponents that hurled a homophobic slur at him, and some he does name cause genuine shock. David Beckham, a gay icon; Paul Ince, an England team-mate; Robbie Savage, now a leading figure in media.
Le Saux describes his playing career as a daily ordeal of crass banter, snide comments and innuendo. And he was straight. He was married. Le Saux visited museums and antique shops, read the Guardian and went on holiday to Holland with Chelsea team-mate Ken Monkou. In English football, 20 years ago, that was enough.
Blackpool’s Daniels (left) is a trailblazer, a man of vision, and a footballer of this, or any, year
Le Saux’s experiences dates from before Daniels was even born. We must hope he has arrived in a wiser, kinder place. Certainly, support from team-mates, from his club and from those who run, write and comment on the game appear to be unanimously positive. It helps that he has made the announcement in his time, and his way, rather than through some gruesome expose.
We measure progress over years, and decades, and without doubt there are some young footballers still in school who will one day cite this as their great inspiration. Yet, maybe, by the end of this very week, Daniels may not be alone.
There may be a player, perhaps even a household name, who is reading his words, watching his interview and thinking if a 17-year-old from Blackpool can take this on, then he can, too.
And that makes Daniels an accelerator; a truly great player, whatever his future holds. Whether at Wembley or Wycombe Wanderers, he’s a trailblazer, a man of vision, and a footballer of this, or any, year.