Jordan Henderson’s recent move to Saudi Arabia has raised concerns among LGBT+ England fans, potentially leading to a symbolic protest when he takes the field for his country. Henderson, a vocal supporter of the Premier League’s ‘Rainbow Laces’ campaign and an advocate for LGBT+ rights, was included in the 26-man England squad for upcoming matches against Ukraine and Scotland.
Despite the controversy surrounding his transfer to Saudi Pro League side Al-Ettifaq, England manager Gareth Southgate has stood by the 33-year-old midfielder. Southgate believes Henderson won’t face jeers from the crowd, but LGBT+ fans may respond with a muted atmosphere and a symbolic gesture during his appearances for the national team.
Joe White, co-chair of Pride in Football and founder of Three Lions Pride, commented on the situation, stating that Henderson’s presence on the pitch might be met with silence instead of cheers. White suggested that some LGBT+ fans may turn their backs on Henderson, mirroring what they perceive as his “turning his back” on them by moving to Saudi Arabia.
In response to questions about the controversy, Southgate emphasized that squad selection was based on football reasons and that players’ choices about where they play should not lead to adverse reactions. He acknowledged the complexity of the situation and expressed his commitment to inclusivity, referencing England’s previous decision not to wear the ‘One Love’ armband during the World Cup in Qatar.
Southgate also noted that many team members and staff have connections to the LGBTQ+ community, and the team is conscious of the issues involved. He emphasized that the decision to select Henderson was straightforward and that it was up to the player to address the issue in his own time.
Regarding the possibility of Henderson regaining the trust of the LGBT+ community, White expressed skepticism, citing the challenging circumstances in Saudi Arabia, where being LGBT is illegal, and local LGBT communities face fear and persecution. White suggested that any actions taken by Henderson should involve input from organizations like Amnesty International and those with experience in protecting local LGBT individuals.
In other squad news, despite not playing a minute of club football this season, former Manchester United captain Harry Maguire and Manchester City midfielder Kalvin Phillips were included in Southgate’s squad. Levi Colwill received his first formal call-up after winning the Under-21 European Championship, and uncapped Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah was also selected for the first time. Notably, Chelsea forward Raheem Sterling did not make the cut despite a strong start to the campaign.