‘Don’t live in fear’ - footballer Matt Morton on finding himself, coming out and inspiring others
PUBLISHED: 08:32 14 October 2020 | UPDATED: 08:32 14 October 2020
It was in January 2018, then aged 30, that Matt Morton had an unexpected realisation about his sexuality.
The Thetford Town player-manager was scrolling through social media when he suddenly received a private message from someone he didn’t know.
Relatively new to Instagram, he asked himself “what’s this all about?” and even responded directly, asking “do I know you?”
From there, conversation with the man at the other end came naturally, but it soon became apparent this was more than a friendly chat - there was attraction as well.
“It all came out of the blue,” recalls Mr Morton, now 33. “I had been approached by gay men before, but this was the first time I had been interested.
“For some reason, whether it was timing or this particular person, something felt very different. Then you start questioning yourself and why you are interested, although for me the reason became obvious.
“That first relationship was on and off for seven or eight months and was pretty complicated. I never really had time to fully accept my sexuality because it was all so new.
“For a while I was thinking ‘is this a phase?’ It took about three months to realise it wasn’t, and six to accept it.”
Fast forward two years and Mr Morton, from Bury St Edmunds, is an openly gay man who discusses his sexuality in a confident, assured manner.
But there is recognition that, in the footballing world, his “status” is conspicuous to say the least.
In fact, at ninth-tier Thetford, he is one of the highest-profile active footballers in the English game to come out.
Last June he revealed the news publicly to his Instagram followers and, over the weekend, he spoke to Sky Sports about his experience to mark Coming Out Day.
“The process of telling people started quite early,” he added. “It was actually my PA that I told first which, looking back, was a safe move because she worked for me and wasn’t living in the local area.
“I told another close friend a few months later, then my football teams, friends and my parents the following June, which is when I posted on Instagram.
“Coming out to your team mates is always going to be daunting but, because I’m a big character in the dressing room and don’t care what people think, it was a case of ‘like it or lump it’.
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“All the players are good people and good friends of mine, but you never really know.”
Speaking so candidly has earned Mr Morton widespread plaudits, not least from people who find themselves in relatable positions.
He admits he could never have foreseen such a positive response, and now simply hopes to inspire and help others.
“Last year after I came out, there were a few local people who sent messages and felt able to confide in me, but you could count them on one hand,” says Mr Morton.
“Now it has multiplied significantly, to the point where I’ve had people from America saying they have been inspired by me to publicly own their sexuality.
“Others have said they are not quite ready for that, but it has allowed them to take a step forward.
“There are even older people saying they wish someone like me had spoken openly when they were younger. A lot of people have given football up because there are no gay role models, and I find that really sad.”
And it’s receiving those messages that motivate Mr Morton to continue speaking out about his own journey.
He adds: “I want people to know that others have done it already. It’s not quite so daunting if you’re not the first one.
“Ultimately no matter what the reaction, your life will better and more fulfilled if you are living it how you want to.
“Living that life in fear and not being yourself is only detrimental. In reality, 99pc of the time your fear of the reaction is 10 times worse than the reaction itself.”
Amid thousands of positive responses, a minority have questioned the need for coverage of Mr Morton’s coming out and his experience, labelling it “not newsworthy”.
But the man himself sees it differently, arguing that the spotlight - for now, at least - must be shined on gay footballers.
“People say those things for the right reasons, but clearly if I am the highest-level footballer in England who is openly gay, there is an issue,” says Mr Morton.
“Statistics tell you there are plenty of gay footballers that exist, but they are clearly not comfortable enough.
“While me coming out and speaking shouldn’t be news, it has to be until we get to a point where it is universally accepted.”
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