Sunday, 6 October 2019

John Fashanu Speaks On Gay Brother

Former England and Wimbledon striker John Fashanu denies dumping Nigeria for the Three Lions, opens up on his relationship with Justin, his late gay brother, and more, in this interview with PUNCH

How have you coped since relocating to Nigeria from the UK?

Excellent, it’s been very exciting, enjoyable and very peaceful.

Has it been easy living life off the pitch?

Life is different and I can say that I am very lucky because for 14 years I was a television presenter with one of the biggest television shows in London. So, my life wasn’t all about football. My life was half football and half television. Before I came to Nigeria, I had already adapted to the situation and I was ready for life off the pitch.

How do you view Tammy Abraham’s decision to play for England ahead of Nigeria, just like you did?

It is very different here. M y situation was very different to that of Tammy Abraham because so many people got it wrong. So many people believe that I turned down my country Nigeria to play for England but that wasn’t the case at all. The former Brazilian coach of the Green Eagles, Otto Gloria, invited me three times and on those three occasions I turned up to play for our country, to play for our motherland. It was unfortunate because I noticed that most of the players when they asked me to go to the right, I will go there but the ball will go to the left and if they asked me to go to the left, the ball will go to the right. One day, the coach Gloria came to me and said, ‘John Fashanu, you are a wonderful player, you are a great player and you are a world-class player but in Nigeria the players don’t really want to play with you. Your football, which is English and Nigerian football, is completely different.’ Remember, this is 30 years ago, football in England is in the air with a lot of aggression, lot of punching and fighting.

But the game in Nigeria is different because they took their style from the Brazilians. Nigerian football is very skillful, played on the ground and very soft with lots of tricks. I was playing a type of football and in Nigeria they had a completely different style. As I said, I came on three different occasions to play for Nigeria and the coach noticed that the rest of the players didn’t want to play with me; they saw me as JJC (Johnny Just Come). They saw me as a boy who doesn’t eat eba, pounded yam and local dishes, who doesn’t speak Yoruba, Igbo or Hausa. That was my first coming to Nigeria. The coach was right, I did not fit in and the truth is, which I have said many times, I wasn’t anywhere good enough to play Nigerian football. The coach called me and said, ‘You go and try get into England’s top team and be the first Nigerian to play for England. That will set boundaries, it will set records and with that you are giving back to the motherland.”

At first I didn’t want to because I enjoyed coming to Nigeria, it was my first moment in Nigeria and I was enjoying it, contrary to all the news in the media. So, I had to wait for a year and nothing happened. But out of the blues, the big opportunity came and I was selected to play for the English national team. I became the first Nigerian to play for England and it was a great opportunity for me to break boundaries. I invited the former (military) President, Ibrahim Babangida, and his wonderful wife to come to London to watch me play and they were in London that same time that I was playing. My first match was against Chile and my second match against Scotland. So, when the newspapers came out with news that John Fashanu didn’t want to play for his country, that was all fake news, they were not true at all.

What do you think about the invitation of players of Nigerian descent to the national team, despite the talents back home?

I think that any Nigerian playing anywhere in the world, if he is called, he must come back home and at least try and get in. What we Nigerians forget to understand is sometimes when these players are called from all over the world to come back to Nigeria, they all come together and they don’t gel. There is no team work, there is no get together. Some of them have different problems; they don’t like each other, and all these petty grievances which happen.

Are you happy with the administration of football in the country?

The administration of football in the country seems just as old. I don’t understand what’s happening at the NFF. It seems to me every day, and to everybody all over the world, what we are reading is criminal cases. We are reading about theft, we are not reading about football. I like to pick up the phone or papers and read about what is happening with the administration, how they are bettering football in this country and not how they are allegedly stealing money and getting richer and richer. That’s really unfortunate.

You once contested for the NFF president position. Would you vie for the seat again?

I contested for the NFF president position and I got it. I became the chairman of the league for one year and again with all the issues of corruption, the fighting going on makes it impossible. I was too English then, but now I’ve been in Nigeria for 17 years. Now, if I contest for a public position it will be very different.

What do you think are the challenges facing Nigerian football?

I think the challenges are right in our faces: corruption. People go into a position of trust, have no money, but leave as billionaires. I think that assets declaration is a must for everybody who goes into a position where there is a lot of money. Declaration of assets is very important.

Your late brother Justin was the first black player to earn £1m but was gay. Would you say you had a perfect relationship with him considering the society’s attitude towards gays and lesbians?
The Fashanu brothers

My brother was the first black £1m player but many people used to get that mixed up. But we were completely opposite, chalk and cheese. That was something that I could never accept, I could never accept his attitude and his declaration that he was gay. In England he used to trouble me and try to fight me but I could never accept the fact that he was gay and I still till this day don’t believe that he was gay.

At just £125,000, you were Wimbledon’s record signing in 1986. How do you view the mega millions involved in players’ transfers in present day European football?

The only thing is, I was the most expensive player ever to transfer to Wimbledon; I am also the most expensive Nigeria player to transfer from Wimbledon to Aston Villa in the Premier League and I was the captain. What happen now is that the money has become astronomical. Years ago, I was the highest paid player in the Premier League at one stage, so I am not going to say I didn’t make money because I made lot of money but the system has just changed now.

What did it feel like helping Wimbledon beat Liverpool in a game described as ‘rags versus riches’, to win the FA Cup in 1988?

The FA Cup in 1988 was the biggest domestic football match in the world and we had 100,000 fans at Wembley watching and about 100,000,000 people around the world watching as well. That was the biggest and most exciting day of my life. And the fact that we were paid a bonus of $1m after the match was incredible because nobody thought that we would ever be able to contest let alone beat the mighty Liverpool. So, when we negotiated with the club for our bonuses, even the club manager never thought that we were going to beat Liverpool, so they gave us all the bonus of $1m. Every player in the Wimbledon team was offered a bonus of $1m, if we beat Liverpool because nobody expected it, not even the media and the bookies. Nobody thought that we will beat Liverpool but there we were, 90 minutes later we beat them 1-0 and all the team became $1m richer. It was a wonderful moment and opportunity.

You were second highest scorer in the 1990/91 season in then England’s First Division. Can you recount your best goals that season?

That was a wonderful achievement, I got to say it myself because I had wonderful players around me and one of the players was Vinnie Jones. I was the record captain of my team for about 14 years. To be named the second highest goal scorer in the English Premier League means you are a player because that’s where all the best players are. Forget playing in Spain, Italy, France or Germany, English Premier League is the hardest league in the world and it always has been. Any player who says he is a player must have played in the Premier League.  That for me was as good as winning the 1988 FA Cup, that for me was like meeting the late Princess Diana because when we won the FA Cup everybody in the Wimbledon team had a handshake with her. To get 21 goals is not easy especially when you are playing with a small club, but I give all the glory to the players because they helped me a lot.

During the 1993/94 season, you were highly criticised for being a physical and aggressive striker after a clash with Gary Mabbutt, which left the then Spurs defender with a broken skull and eye socket. Can you recall that moment again?

I can recall that moment very well, that was Tottenham playing against Wimbledon and Garry Mabbutt was the captain of his side and I was the captain of Wimbledon. We both contested for a ball in the air, I didn’t see him and he didn’t see me too. It was very simple, it wasn’t that I punched him but we both clashed heads and I’m sorry to say this but people around the world know that Africans are very strong people by nature, by birth. It was unfortunate that he had stitches in his head, I had stitches in my head too but his was much. I think he had about 10 to 20 stitches. His injury was worse than mine but that happens in football.

There are many people who break their legs in football making innocent tackles, they didn’t mean to tackle the player but the player got his leg broken. That’s quite normal, it’s just that when the media wants to attack you because you are an aggressive player, they will use all sorts of fake stories. Mabbutt till today is a wonderful coach, we still talk and there is no problem between us.

Why was Wimbledon derided as the Crazy Gang?

It’s because our style of football was crazy, we took a lot of risks. Our goalkeeper would play penalties, he would come to the opponents’ box to try and help score goals during corner-kicks. And all the players that played for Wimbledon then were all singles, none of us was married. We were young players and crazy and we didn’t care what people thought about us. We understood that playing in the English Premier League was an enormous honour and we just wanted to enjoy ourselves and score goals.

We were making a lot of money because salaries at Wimbledon were very high. The club was owned by a Lebanese billionaire, he bought Wimbledon and he was able to pay the players high salaries and he did lots of wonderful things. And they say even the owner was crazy, so we got the reputation of being crazy because we did things together as a team and achieved a lot. Let them say what they like but we played in the Premier League and we finished fourth. For a club like Wimbledon it was absolutely an amazing time for us.

You never played at the World Cup, is this something you regret?

Life is too short for regrets; you live your life to the fullest and enjoy yourself. My life has been absolutely phenomenal and I give God the glory for helping me play football for 30 years and to be a television star for many years as well. Every day I just say, ‘Thank you Lord.’ I was successful in England and I have been able to stay in Nigeria for 17 years. I have made so many wonderful friends even when many people said that I shouldn’t go back to Nigeria. I didn’t listen to them, I came and I’ve got a wonderful life here in Nigeria. There is no regret and if I could change it all again I would still do exactly the same.

What is your view on the use of VAR in modern football?

I think it is a welcome development because there are some things that cannot be seen by the referees or the linesmen. Football is developing and changing. The money in football is incredible and they have to give back to the people what they deserve.

What’s your philosophy of life?

It’s the ‘Three Ls’- Look, Listen and Learn. It’s been tried and tested years after years, decades after decades. If you can do the three Ls in life and you have the patience and understanding to look at people, listen to people and to learn, then you shouldn’t go too far wrong in life.

If you could turn back the hands of time, what would you do now that you didn’t do in the past?

I’ve been blessed by God and I am very thankful for that. If I could turn back the clock, I can absolutely say that there is very little that I didn’t do that I want to do now. I’ve claimed everything that I want, I won so many awards, God has blessed me and I have been very lucky. I was a professional footballer for 30 years; I’ve been a television presenter for 20 years, I think I conquered most dreams. So, now it’s just to have a peaceful life and enjoy myself and make sure I give back to my children.


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