Oxford City have sacked ageing striker Lee Steele after he posted a homophobic tweet.
Steele, 38, wrote a tweet about former Wales rugby captain Gareth Thomas entering Channel 5's Celebrity Big Brother house that stated "I wouldn't fancy the bed next to Gareth Thomas #padlockmyarse", The Guardian reports.
The remark earned Steele the sack. A club statement explained: "The Oxford City board have decided to release Lee Steele in view of his recent comment via social media which is considered seriously contrary to the ethos of the club."
Mike Ford, manager of the Southern Football League Premier Division club*, told the BBC: "On this occasion Lee's had to pay for his error of judgment. He's made a homophobic comment, [but] that doesn't necessarily mean he's homophobic."
Thomas came out three years ago, becoming one of the very few openly gay players in big team sports. Homophobia remains rife in team sports and most especially football. The Justin Campaign against homophobia in football, named after gay footballer Justin Fashanu, welcomed Oxford City's actions.
"For far too long homophobic comments like the ones Steele made have been defended using the erroneous argument that such remarks as simply harmless 'banter'," it said.
"However, we no longer accept racist 'banter', and likewise, we must never accept homophobic 'banter'. These kind of comments, in which being gay or bisexual is used as joke, have immense power in dissuading members of the LGBT community from either playing or watching football."
"Oxford City’s brave decision shows us that things are, slowly, moving in the right direction and that football is starting to take homophobia, biphobia and transphobia seriously."
The Let's Kick Racism Out of Football campaign has made huge strides since 1993 in removing the blight of racism from the beautiful game. Although racist remarks on the terraces and even on the pitch remain commonplace those that make them can expect to be punished severely if caught. Racism is no longer acceptable in football just as it isn't in wider British society.
However homophobia, misogyny and sectarianism (especially in Glasgow) remain huge problems in the game that are unlikely to dissipate anytime soon, despite the best efforts of campaigners.
Steele has declined to make any further comment. ®
*The Southern Football League Premier Division occupies the seventh tier of English league football, mostly featuring semi-professional players. Steele is a journeyman pro who joined Oxford city in 2009. Highlights of his long career included helping Brighton & Hove Albion achieve back to back promotions between 2000 and 2002, earning the club a spot in the Championship (English second tier).