- Eight weeks ago, Josh Cavallo became the only current openly gay player in men’s top-flight football
- Since his announcement, the 22-year-old Australian has discovered a new lease of life – having been inundated with positive reactions from fans and media
- The midfielder for Adelaide United has resolved to use his new status to be the role model he always looked for growing up, helping to make football a welcoming environment for everyone
Last season I won the Adelaide United young player of the year award, one of the biggest achievements of my career so far, and I went home and cried myself to sleep. I should have been celebrating with my family and peers, but I just felt numb - because I accepted the award as someone else, as the person I was pretending to be.
That was the moment that I decided enough was enough; the time had come to be honest about who I really was and, whether people could accept me or not, I had to come out.
I told my two coaches, Carl Veart and Ross Aloisi, and they were so supportive and just genuinely happy for me - it felt like a huge weight that had been sitting on me all this time had suddenly been lifted. Only two people in the football world knew that I was gay, and I already felt so free and unencumbered on the pitch, like I could finally start playing as myself.
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Telling my team-mates was a really big step, and I swear that I could see my heart beating out of my t-shirt as I walked into that team meeting. I was so nervous, but equally determined that that old Josh was going to be left behind in that room, and the new Josh would walk out and start his life as a gay footballer. As it happened, I had nothing to be worried about. My teammates were surprised, but just so happy that I had taken that step to being comfortable in my own skin – we hugged, talked for a bit, and then the conversation just slipped back into football, nothing had changed.
All those times I had stressed about social situations – what if someone asks me who I am dating? How can I make sure they don’t find out? I realised that they were totally unnecessary, because these people at Adelaide United - my family away from home – they just want what’s best for me both on and off the pitch. Armed with that knowledge, I walked out of that room with the biggest smile on my face - ready to take on the world.
By the time it came to pushing the button on my public announcement, I felt like I’d already won the race. I was already training better than I ever had before, I could concentrate on my game without being distracted by unwelcome thoughts of lying to everyone around me, and I was just genuinely the happiest I had ever been in my life - nothing was going to change that.
It did though - in the best way possible. So many people have got in touch, reaching out to support me, to say that I’ve inspired them and, best of all, saying that I’ve given them the confidence to come out themselves. One of the hardest parts about being a gay footballer was that there was no one to really look up to. I loved football, but there was no-one that represented me within the industry, no-one to aspire to be like, and no one to assure me that I could be both gay and a footballer. It was really painful, thinking that these two parts of myself would never be able to coexist.
Now I get to be that person for everyone else. I have opposition fans cheering me on, asking for advice, taking photos with me – and I just feel so elated that I can be a role model for not just Adelaide United fans, but for everyone. It’s incredible knowing that I’ve helped so many people just by being myself, and I just wish that I had done it sooner.
I’ve been contacted by other players, fans, parents and grandparents of young people who are struggling with this side of themselves, asking for advice on what the next step is - but to be honest it’s such a deeply personal journey with so many different stages that each person needs to make in their own time. I hope that one day, in the not-too-distant future, we will live in a world that people don’t need to come out – they don’t feel the need to lie about that part of themselves for a single moment, but until then – I’m here for them all.
I’ve had such an amazing experience, it’s only been a couple of months and already I’ve transformed into this bubbly and energetic person that I hardly recognise – but I’m looking forward to being him, to playing football as him, for the rest of my life.
If this is the changes that I’ve noticed in such a short time, I can only imagine what the football community can achieve in five years. So, wear the rainbow armbands, stitch the LGBTIQ+ logo onto your jerseys, and let everyone know – footballer or fan, straight or gay – that they are safe and welcome just as they are.
It will change their lives.