Scottish referee Craig Napier comes out as gay

Sean Walsh
Napier made the announcement on Thursday
Napier made the announcement on Thursday / Christian Cooksey/GettyImages

Scottish category one referee Craig Napier has delivered a passionate statement on the need to change the 'climate' of football after coming out as gay.

Napier is the first openly gay man in Scottish professional football since Justin Fashanu's spells with Airdrie and Hearts in the 1990s.

And the 32-year-old has said that while in an ideal world his sexuality wouldn't be newsworthy, he hopes that his announcement will help change perceptions in the game.

"It's something that I never thought I would be sitting here doing," Napier said in a video on the Scottish FA's Twitter feed.

"It's something that I've obviously lived with for a long time. It's been a difficult journey to get to this point, but over the last couple of years, it's become a lot easier.

"I don't think this needs to be a news story but I think, at the moment, it really does because we need to see the climate change so that people do feel that they can be their true self and live happily and comfortably in their own skin, and that needs to transcend into football.

"I remember reading the newspapers when Tom Daley came out and I was so inspired but not inspired enough where I felt confident enough that I could then come out because I thought 'diving isn't the same as football'. There is something about football at the moment. There's still that barrier.

"I'm involved in lots of spheres in life whether it be social, whether it be at my work in the NHS, whether it be at university where I also work and I'm entirely comfortable.

"Football is different and I think that's why these conversations are important because we need to change that culture. There are no footballers on the pitch that are open but they are there.

"Until we have these conversations and have these role models on the pitch, there will be that stigma, that fear and that's what we need to change and I hope that we can do that by having these conversations."

Napier spoke of his admiration for Blackpool's Jake Daniels, who recently announced that he was gay, becoming the first active professional men's footballer to come out since Fashanu, and Adelaide United's Josh Cavallo.

"There will be people who might say this doesn't need to be in the news, a gay sportsperson doesn't need to be on the back pages or on social media. But I think it's important for people in the LGBT community to hear these conversations, to say 'yeah, that's similar to my journey'.

"I think that it's been really inspiring to see what's happened recently - Josh Cavallo and Jake Daniels more recently. It's positive to see Jake, at the age of 17, announcing to everyone his sexuality and I think that many people will take inspiration from that.

"But they might also think, 'I'm not sure I'm brave enough to take that step. What if my friends don't accept me? What if my family rejects my sexuality?'. What I wanted to add to the conversation was that I've never had a bad experience when I've had these conversations.

"I've always felt so much lighter after speaking about it. This isn't a conversation about me - this is a conversation about trying to change the culture in Scottish football.

"It's a lot of wasted energy, worrying about whether you're going to lose friends over it, whether you're not going to get promoted in refereeing because of it or whether you're not going to get selected for the first team because of it.

"Josh and Jake are changing that and hopefully here in Scotland I can play a small part in hoping that it can inspire whoever is out there to be more comfortable in who they are and have the conversations with their family, friends, team-mates and come out publicly if they feel able to.

"I think people will be better served enjoying their life and living their true self. That's the message that I want people to take away from this conversation."

Shortly after Napier's announcement, Scottish lower-leagues referee Lloyd Wilson also came out as gay, admitting his road to his public statement was not a happy one.

"I think really the reason being that this has been a horrific journey, to be honest," Wilson said to mental health charity Back Onside.

"A journey of maybe 17 years of living a life that I didn't want to live, living a lie, living the way that other people maybe wanted me to live or that I thought other people wanted me to live, and probably dictated and directed in many ways by football."