So, this happened. Gary Neville, the captain of Manchester United, smooched Paul Scholes after he scored game-winning goal just 20 seconds before Saturday’s as-yet no-score game ended. ESPN uploaded a photo and slugged its filename as “nevillegay.” The Independent turned it into a punny headline; as did the Daily Mail. But the best “What does this mean for all of football?” think piece goes to The Guardian‘s Paul MacInnes, with the headline, “When men’s lips meet: By kissing Paul Scholes, Gary Neville declared war on homophobia. And Francophobia, too.”
This was, evidently, the most dramatic public display of affection to take place on grass in the history of mankind.
The kiss exchanged by Neville and Scholes, or rather the one foisted upon Scholes by Neville, was broadcast around the world. It said a lot about what victory, the crucial three points as they say, meant to Manchester United. It also said a lot about Gary Neville. He is, after all, more commonly associated with the passionate expression of emotions other than love; as exemplified by his apparently unassuaged loathing of scousers and a general antipathy towards footballing officialdom.
Such a gesture – normally expected of the male lead in a Jennifer Aniston movie – showed Neville in a whole new light. And it could yet prove to be totemic. Professional football, a sport constantly expected to provide role models for the nation’s children, remains quite remarkable for the fact that throughout its upper echelons there is not one player, not a single one, who says he is homosexual. While the law of averages would suggest there ought to be at least one XI of gay players in the Premier League, none has come out. Even when the Welsh rugby international Gareth Thomas came out late last year, no footballer followed his lead. They’re all straight, you see, every single one of them.
And now, all of a sudden, Neville’s smooch is going to CHANGE. THE. WORLD.
Perhaps Neville can change all that. He may be married with two kids, but if this crazy, untamed, obsessional partisan feels that the only way of truly conveying his feelings is to lock lips with a bemused redhead then surely there’s a broader message that could be made from it? The Manchester Pride event runs through the last 10 days of August this year. Neville should be invited as a guest of honour.
Our sarcasm shouldn’t downplay the bold move. Homophobia in sports is a big problem, and efforts to fight it should be commended. But did we really witness anything more than an ass slap? A crotch grab? Sure, some open-mouth snogging in front of an arena of fans, and television cameras, makes for great headlines. But this was just one more form of male-on-male expression of affection for a job well done — and one that’s been done before.
It’s not like they’re going home to fuck.