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Who is the best African striker in the Premier League so far this season?






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2008.10.23 10:21:59

To say that Justin Fashanu was as enigmatic off the field as he was talented on it, is arguably one of the understatements of the century. In his short turbulent life he was a mirror of complexity riding the crest of success as the UK's first black player to earn a million pounds; to the low ignominy of being investigated as a possible paedophile in the US. Sandwiched in between these two extremes  he always made us sit on the edge of our seats while sadly confusing us finally in death.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. Let us start at the very beginning.

Born on February 1961 to Nigerian parents, JF and younger brother John were virtually abandoned and grew up in a Barnando home - a form of orphanage created by Dr. Thomas John Barnardo in 1866, to care for vulnerable children and young people in the UK. Considering the obvious esteem problems this must have caused for a fragile ego and add to it the added weight or racism, it is here we can trace the beginning of an obvious complex that would not only haunt him for the rest of his life, but eventually trigger an early demise.

 Adopted by Alf and Betty Jackson, JF first of all blossomed as a boxer before finding his niche as a gifted soccer player with an obvious nose for goal while playing for Norwich City's farm team. It would be here in 1978 that he would earn his first cap as a professional and start his bumpy mercurial rise to the top. Seemingly cocksure on the field he was without doubt a rising star as a member of England's B team at age 17,  and gave us many spectacular goals - none more impressive than a gem of goal against Liverpool in 1980 that won him the BBC Goal of the Season award.
As referred to earlier on, he hit the jack pot and made history with one solitary roll of the dice when in 1981 he joined Nottingham Forest as the first black player to command a £1m transfer fee. Looking back now it was here that things would start to fall apart for him football wise. Very open public spats developed with manager Brian Clough - an unrepentant homophobe - who was beginning to openly question JF's not so secret "secret" night time excursions to gay bars. It would eventually develop into a full blown war and JF was soon relegated to the bench. To make matters worse a nasty knee injury decimated his playing time even more and finally kept him off the field for more than 5 years. All repeated attempts from 1989 to 1991 to salvage his career with spells at Manchester City, West Ham, Leyton Orient and Newcastle fell below par, before his "last hurrah" at lowly Torquay United.

Finally frustrated with the climate in the UK he moved to the US and then to Canada where he hoped to make a come back in the obviously weaker leagues while running a local gay bar. When neither plan seemed to pan out he returned to the UK in 1989 and openly "came out" in 1990.The subsequent bashing unleashed by the fans, press and general public alike by today's standard can be called nothing less than inhumane. Especially vile was the reaction from the African community which had and has always been incomprehensibly intolerant of homosexuality despite being abused themselves for centuries for being "different". Again Justin would jump continents to escape the vexed masses and return to the US as a coach first in Atlanta, and then for the newly-formed Maryland Mania which was being run by arguably one of his last confidants AJ Ali. It was his first high-profile job since the one he held in Scotland in 1994. Seemingly all was well on the surface as the new Coach tackled his job with both vigor and glee but we now know that JF's life was far from being okay. The constant persecution had taken its toll on him and made him not just bitter, but also semi-reclusive from former friends and even from sibling John.

All came to the forefront that fateful day on March the 25th in Ellicott City when a 17 year old student claimed he was sexually assaulted after a night of drinking with the coach. Justin was charged with a myriad of felonies that included second-degree sexual assault, first-degree assault and second-degree assault. Under Maryland state law, the sex offence alone carried a maximum 20-year jail term.
Despite crying foul and claiming that he had "a relationship of mutual consent" with the alleged victim, who tried to extort money from him, and pressed charges when he refused to pay up; JF did the most incomprehensible thing and again ran from his problem returning to the UK. The Maryland Police were not amused and despite dropping the case later for lack of enough evidence to prosecute they threatened to commence extradition proceedings. Days later JF did a more incomprehensible thing by hanging himself in an East London garage and ending his life prematurely. With his final selfish act JF remained defiant thumbing his nose at xenophobic England where more than 10 years later he still remains the only gay player regardless of color, to come "out". This speaks volumes for his bravery. Ironically in death he also delivered a haunting "tsk tsk" to Africa - just like Okonkwo did in Achebe's brilliant novel. His death is a bitter reminder that Africa had failed him. From the rich parents that abandoned him as a wee lad to his extended tribal family that failed to play a better role supporting his fragile and confused ego, we all let him down collectively.
Fact of the matter is had JF lived a decade later he would probably not be dead and would be out there still manipulating the press with sound bites off the field and us with spectacular goals on it.
Too late the hero. Rest in peace.

  Justin Fashanu | gay | Norwich city | suicide

2008.10.26 20:41:21

Great piece, and a great player in his time, that goal is still one of the most memorable I know. As a kid of 9 at the time it was burn't into my brain. Great to see the You Tube clip again. A sad loss. Good work Suya

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