Memory was on Tuesday revived for late Nigerian-born British striker, Justin Fashanu, as former colleagues, mentors and fans gathered to bring him ‘alive’ and give him a graceful 58th post-humus birthday in England.
The honour in death for John Fashanu’s older brother were led by ex-Leyton Orient manager, Frank Clark and the late striker’s close friend, Alan Quick.
Also speaking in memory of Britain’s first out gay footballer is an artist, Colin Yates, who the ex-Norwich City hitman still inspires till this day.
Yates is among those helping to keep Fashanu’s memory alive, with February the month of action for Football versus Homophobia, known as The Justin Campaign when it was founded in 2008.
For those who knew Fashanu personally, and for those who appreciate its significance, February 19 is a date to reflect on his unique legacy.
Manchester City, for which Fashanu played briefly in 1989, were joined by Tottenham Hotspur, Charlton Athletic, Exeter and Altrincham to mark FvH in various ways in recent weeks.
Yates has also been exhibiting a new collection of his Fashanu artwork at Coventry’s Blue Door Gallery, with plans now afoot to bring the show to London, supported by the PFA.
Last year, the artist’s ‘Black Looks’ collection, which featured Fashanu in a series of portraits of black professional footballers, got a retrospective outlook at the National Football Museum in Manchester.
As the game encounters fresh incidents of racism and homophobia, all forms of discrimination that afflicted Fashanu throughout his life, Yates’ art continues to spark important conversations for all age groups.
He disclosed that ‘Ups and Downs’, with its theme of snakes and ladders, is a metaphor for the turbulent, peripatetic life of one of football’s most uncanny stars, who would have celebrated his 58th birthday on Tuesday.
A companion piece made 20 years on from ‘Ups and Downs’, the print ‘Whodunnit?’ is a comment on the characters Fashanu represented – the sportsman, the star, the true self – and how each was in the frame after his body was discovered in a Shoreditch garage one Sunday morning in May 1998.
Reflecting on the first portrait he made of Justin Fashanu, Yates said: “I wanted to create a new version.
“I re-read all the information, and you think, ‘why did he come to that tragic end? Why did it happen?
“I wanted to capture a motif for his life. I thought this was the best way to represent him.”