Coronation Street star Nathan Graham has urged football bosses to give homophobic and racist abuse the boot once and for all.
Looking to shift the goalposts in the conversation around sexuality and sport, Nathan calls on the game’s elite to pull their socks up in promoting inclusivity and stamping out discrimination.
“I know [the Football Association] do Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces and the Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football campaign, but [it’s like] Gary Neville was saying, we have these campaigns, we put the t-shirt on, but what is actually happening beyond that...?” he begins.
Nathan Graham, shot by Jonathan Blackburn exclusively for Attitude's May issue
“It feels like there are no consequences. You can say whatever you want. If you get found out, you might get a lifetime ban, yeah, but that’s just one fan.
"How many times can a club say they’ve had, say five cases [of abuse]? Where do you draw the line?” Nathan asks.
Soap favourite Nathan – who arrived on the famous cobbles last summer – says tougher action needs to be taken against bigoted fans.
Nathan Graham as footballer James Bailey in Coronation Street
He argues: “Things need to be put in place: if someone from your club, a fan or whatever, does this again, you’re going to be deducted points, you’re going to be fined, you might have to play a game behind closed doors. It needs to be zero tolerance.”
As a keen Manchester United supporter, 29-year-old Nathan is more than aware of the hate speech that is spewed from the stands.
“Ever since I got the job, it feels like there have been more cases of that… I also read the other week that someone heard homophobic chanting, but that the FA weren’t going to investigate,” he continues.
Nathan’s alter-ego – who plays for the fictional side Weatherfield County – is currently being faced with the possibility of being publicly outed when messages to an ex-boyfriend leak online and a reporter comes sniffing.
Comparisons have inevitably been drawn to Justin Fashanu, the first (and last) professional footballer to come out. He did so in 1990, and after being hit by waves of harrassment, he took his own life eight years later, aged 37.
“I knew of Justin,” Nathan reflects. “I watched a documentary about him ages ago and it makes you think of what it was like 30 years ago, that time period of someone being out and openly gay.
Photography: Jonathan Blackburn
"He had it tough and he was super brave. The discrimination then was a different level and I would like to think we’ve evolved as human beings.”
As for what he hopes is in store for his character, Nathan shoots with his own idea for where he’d like the story to go.
“He comes out publicly, expecting the worst, but it’s more like, ‘Huh,’ not a celebration, but not as big a thing as he thought it would be. Maybe he’s the catalyst and then another player is like, ‘Me, too,’ more of that kind of journey,” he suggests.