Greg McLean - My Story
My name is Greg McLean, I’m 27 years old and I am Executive Support Officer at Cheshire County Football Association.
Within football, I’ve got a lot of different hats really. I set up and launched a team nine years ago, St Margaret’s Old Boys, which I run in Liverpool. That’s a former students team for the school I used to go to. I’m also on a panel league committee, so I run a league in Liverpool.
Football has always been a massive part of my life since I was old enough to stand up; I had a football at my feet from a very young age really! I think it was the World Cup, France 98, when I really started getting interested in football, and I think the goal Michael Owen scored against Argentina was the one that really got me engaged.
When you go to secondary school, you go through a lot of change. Your body is changing, your mind is changing and your thoughts are changing. When I was in secondary school, you do start questioning everything naturally at that age.
I think a lack of LGBT education, particularly on the school curriculum, means that your questions go unanswered, and that then leads to a lot of self-doubt. It’s a difficult path to end up going down really.
When you’re on the schoolyard and you’re among friends and other young people, there are a number of comments flying about that are potential derogatory towards gay people and other members of the LGBT community. It almost brings a sense of shame and fear, which shouldn’t happen because you’re an equal part of that community, but you’re made to feel like you’re not, and that’s something that I felt during my time at school.
I went to an all-boys school and then moved into a mixed sixth form college. You had the added difficultly of interaction with girls which, for the previous five years, hadn’t been the case.
I think that added to my confusion because I wanted to fit in with the lads. You join in with the jokes and get involved; it wasn’t in any way, shape or form who I am; it was all an act.
The longer you act, the more tired you become of carrying that burden. Once that two-year period of sixth form was over, you think its ‘job done’, but then that whole anxiety had grown over that period.
I didn’t go to university because I was fearful of society anxiety and different situations that may put me in a compromised position and potentially reveal who I really was.
In order to keep up that facade, I ended up staying and working at the school that I actually went to. My boss at the time, who was a very close friend, noticed that something wasn’t right about my character and who I was in work.
Eventually after a number of conversations, it sort of came to light that what I was revealing to him was about my sexuality. It took a lot of difficult conversations for me to be able to say that I was gay, because at the time, it was massively embarrassing; I was ashamed of who I was, which is why I was so down about it.
Once I’d actually taken that burden off my shoulders, the impact that had on me was so massive.
Once I knew that one person knew who I was, that gradually built my confidence up, and over a period of time, I was able to accept within myself who I was.
Eventually, I plucked up the courage to sit down and tell my family. My parents are separated so I had to have that conversation twice. It was the most nerve-wrecking conversation I’ve ever had, but the response I got was one of complete and utter support and love, which was a great relief.
Although it was a really positive outcome in terms of telling my family, I still didn’t feel as though I was in a position with my confidence levels to tell the football team lads of my situation.
I was actually manager of the team at the time, and I made the difficult decision to step away. I didn’t actually tell them the full reason why; I just said that I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to continue.
It was a really sad moment for me because, for a team that I had set up and ran for so many years, I was walking away from that because I didn’t feel confident enough to be my true self with the players because I didn’t know what their reaction would be.
Would they be embarrassed about playing for a gay manager? It was frustrating to have to walk away.
In my private life with the family, I think I was a much happier person. It took a good four or five months before I felt comfortable enough in myself to say, ‘these players have known me for a number of years and they deserve to know why I walked away’, and I least then I knew they could make their own decisions on how they took that news.
I did so not knowing what the response would be. It was a bit of a risk, but the response I got was tremendous. It wasn’t a one-line reply; every one of those players took the time to send a personal message back to say that they were gutted that I had left because of that.
They were saddened that I felt the need to walk away because I couldn’t be who I was, and that they didn’t change their opinion of me. That was vital for me because I care what people think about me.
For them to accept who I was and to get that support was such a heartwarming feeling, and I was able to return to the club days after that message. It was a great ending to what was a pretty sad story.
Inclusion without football and within any sport is absolutely vital. As someone who has experienced difficulties in wanting to fit in, it’s certainly become apparent that having an environment that is welcoming, accepting and engaging can have such massive rewards for individuals who may be going through a difficult time.
It’s often classed as banter, maybe dressing room jokes where people make a comment and it’s not meant to come across the way it does. Although the person making the comments doesn’t mean it to come across like that, that is how someone who may be in that situation could interpret it.
I would say I’d always be an advocate of honesty and openness. Without those, you can’t actually show the world your true authentic self, which is what the world wants you to be.
In my experience, people can surprise you. I had prepared myself when I was telling friends and family for a negative response, so I was going in on the defensive, actually prepared for conflict to justify who I was.
The reaction I got was the complete opposite. I think people can surprise you and are very accepting now. It’s something that has definitely changed over the last few years and will continue to change in a positive way.
People can surprise you, and that goes for your family, friends and teammates…
Throughout this Rainbow Laces Campaign, let’s support the LGBT community and make sure that Cheshire is FOR ALL!