In a recent interview with BBC’s Newsbeat, England’s only openly gay footballer, Jake Daniels, referred to Jordan Henderson’s move to join Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ettifaq Football Club as a “slap in the face”.
The comment comes after Henderson was heavily criticised by fans and footballers alike for his transfer to Saudi Arabia, where same-sex sexual activity is illegal. The transfer came in July, alongside a hefty £12 million paycheck through a £700,000-a-week deal, but the player has continually insisted that the decision was not financially motivated.
Henderson’s move seemingly contradicts his well-documented support of the LGBTQ+ community, including his support of the rainbow laces campaign, which landed the player a 2021 LGBT+ Awards nomination for ‘Football Ally’ of the year.
When Daniels came out as gay in May of 2022, the Blackpool player reported that he received a message of support from Jordan Henderson, the then-captain of Liverpool FC.
“He was backing me and said: ‘We’re proud of what you’ve done,” Daniels recalled.
“Seeing him move to Saudi, it kind of like, slaps me in my face really.
“But I guess the money pays well, and money must mean more to people.”
Following Henderson’s July 2023 move to join Al-Ettifaq FC, however, Daniels reports that the two have not been in contact.
‘I’m a gay man and I love being a gay man… it’s an amazing feeling!’
You can’t underestimate how much of a game-changer it is to hear a male professional footballer say those words.
Our chat with @BlackpoolFC’s Jake Daniels is out now.
— Jack Murley (@jack_murley) November 22, 2023
Following the backlash over his decision to move to Saudi Arabia, Henderson sat down for an interview with The Athletic in September, where he claimed to understand the anger surrounding his decision. He added, however, that he hoped his move would help “grow the sport all over the world.”
He continued, saying that football fans were more than aware of his “views and values” before adding that he believed that his move to Saudi Arabia could ultimately be viewed as a “positive thing.”
“I can understand the frustration. I can understand the anger. I get it,” Henderson told The Athletic.
“All I can say around that is that I’m sorry that they feel like that. My intention was never, ever to hurt anyone.
“My intention has always been to help causes and communities where I felt like they have asked for my help.
“I think people know what my views and values were before I left and still do now. And I think having someone with those views and values in Saudi Arabia is only a positive thing.”
Since then, Jordan Henderson has been widely criticised by Liverpool’s LGBTQ+ fan club, Kop Outs! Following his interview with The Athletic, the group has accused Henderson of declining any responsibility for his “role in sportswashing” and trying to “disguise the disgusting Saudi human rights record.”
In his interview with BBC’s Newsbeat, Daniels went on to discuss the various challenges facing LGBTQ+ footballers at large, including obstacles like those faced at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
“We were starting to see a bit of progress,” said Daniels. “Then the Qatar World Cup happens and we go back again.
“If I was involved in the World Cup and went over, I wouldn’t feel safe, and that’s putting my football in jeopardy.”
Daniels went on to express his hopes that we will continue to see incremental progress towards LGBTQ+ inclusion in UK football, especially in the Premier League, which currently hosts no openly gay footballers.
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