Death of gay football star Justin Fashanu may have been suicide

 

The former footballer Justin Fashanu (37), who was found dead in east London at the weekend may have committed suicide, it emerged last night.

The former Norwich City chief scout, Mr Ronnie Brooks, led the tributes to Fashanu last night, as police awaited the results of further tests after a post-mortem examination proved inconclusive. Early indications suggest that Mr Fashanu may have hanged himself.

His body was found on Saturday afternoon by a passer-by in a lock-up garage in Shoreditch, east London only days after it emerged that police in Maryland in the US had issued a warrant for his arrest when he disappeared following charges of sexual assault involving a 17-year-old student.

Fashanu, a former Dr Barnardo's boy who was fostered at the age of five with his older brother John, went on to become the first £1 million black footballer in Britain when he was signed by Nottingham Forest in 1981 aged 20.

But a famously difficult relationship with the club's then manager, Brian Clough, and Fashanu's renowned temper soon found him out of favour with the club and he slipped quickly and in spectacular fashion from the First Division of English football to the backwaters of the Third Division.

In his own words, Fashanu's failure to achieve the success his talent deserved was due, in part, to his admission that he was gay. He blamed the male-dominated, prejudiced world of British football for his failure to build an international career.

In a stinging outburst, he once said: "You have got to understand that footballers are very narrowminded people. It's the nature of the business. When you put yourself in the firing line, you are open to attack. I know I'm there to be shot down in flames."

Describing Justin Fashanu, a born-again Christian, and his brother John as "smashing lads", Mr Brooks said yesterday he was "completely devastated" by Justin's death.

After a spell playing football in the US and Canada and most recently working as a football coach with Maryland Mania, Justin Fashanu had recently visited Mr Brooks in London. "He'd come over from Atlantic City just to see me and have a chat. I think he must have been feeling some of the pressures and thought a chat to me might help. "I told him I wasn't happy about some of the things that had been attributed to him and some aspects of his lifestyle . . . I was very upset when Justin turned gay. I didn't like that at all," Mr Brooks added.

His tendency to run to the tabloid newspapers with details of his affairs with MPs and the former Coronation Street star Julie Goodyear, which were later revealed to be untrue, also brought Fashanu a great deal of criticism.

In 1992 Ms Goodyear was forced to deny reports that she and Fashanu had had an affair. "The only relationship I ever had with Justin was one of friendship, but he claimed it was a sexual relationship which was not true," she said. "He had already admitted he was gay. I maintained a dignified silence, but I do believe things catch up with you," Ms Goodyear said.

However, not only was his professional life littered with difficulties, his relationship with his brother had also broken down in recent years.

John Fashanu, who played football for Wimbledon and England, had not spoken to his brother for seven years.

As the Fashanu family appealed to the media to be left alone, his lawyer, Mr Henri Brandman, said he was "absolutely distraught at this tragic time".