Former Doncaster Rovers star becomes unlikely icon of gay and lesbian community

Neville Southall (left) with Ian Snodin in 1998.
Neville Southall (left) with Ian Snodin in 1998.

A former Doncaster Rovers star has become an unlikely icon of the gay and lesbian community.

One time Wales and Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall, who briefly played at Belle Vue in the late 90s, has become a patron of an LGBT campaign group and has won praise in recent weeks for a series of inspirational tweets.

The no-nonsense 59-year-old, who won a record 92 international caps for his country and was made an MBE in 1995, has become a straight ally ambassador for Just A Ball Game, who have been working since 2010 to help build a more inclusive football community for LGBT+ people and to combat discrimination and homophobia in the sport.

Southall, known during his time in the game as Big Nev, has also become a patron for Bradford City's LGBT+ fan group, having had a short spell as a player at Valley Parade in 2000.

On his new roles, he said: "I think it's important that the football community and the LGBT+ community talk more, and maybe I can help?"

Southall has become something of a social media sensation in recent weeks, engaging with fellow Twitter users on LGBT issues and amassing over 100,000 followers in the process.

"I think it's only a matter of time that a footballer will come out," he added. "With the work of charities like Just A Ball Game?, we hope to make it a better environment to help that happen."

Just A Ball Game? founder Lindsay England said: "Neville is a fantastic addition to the LGBT+ and straight alliance for both our JBG? educational campaign work, and raising the profile of the LGBT fan group at Bradford City."

Earlier this month he posted on Twitter: ‘If your gay straight trans or anything else you should be able to be what you want. Not live a lie.’

The tweet came after a conversation with his followers online.

‘It was after talking to a couple of people on here about sexuality and gender; lots of idiots came out of the woodwork to have a go.

‘I thought: how does anybody who is different put up with that s*** every day?’

He added: ‘I was chatting with a cis lady and she put me onto another trans lady who explained to me what it all means.

‘I came away thinking why do these people have to put up with so much s*** all time? They are nice human beings who should have had more help earlier and lot more support.

‘They opened my eyes to different world’

Southall played for Rovers during the 1998-99 season, the club's first season in non-league following relegation from the Football League, after being persuaded to sign a short term deal with then boss and former Everton team-mate Ian Snodin.