FORMER Torquay United striker Justin Fashanu, the first openly gay player in English senior football, has been posthumously inducted into the National Football Museum’s Hall of Fame.
The honour falls on what would have been the 59th birthday of ‘Fash’, who was found dead in the East End of London in May 1998.
It was five years after the eventful 14 months he spent at Plainmoor from 1991-1993 in the old Third and Fourth Divisions.
Fashanu, who had cost £1 million when he was transferred from Norwich City to Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest in 1981, had ‘come out’ only a year before Gulls chairman Mike Bateson gave him a chance to resurrect his pro career on the English Riviera.
Perhaps as intended, the move attracted headlines far beyond South Devon, and Fashanu always tried to live up to the publicity in his own inimitable way.
He enjoyed playing the role of ‘star attraction’ at Plainmoor.
But, after taking several weeks before deeming himself match-fit, he also enjoyed the most successful spell in his later career on the pitch.
Still able to roll back the years, especially on occasions that inspired him, he scored 17 goals in 41 league and cup appearances for a struggling Torquay team.
At 6ft 3in tall and powerfully-built, he could not be intimidated - indeed, he often reacted to opponents’ ‘stick’ by giving back more than he got.
Despite receiving open and often vicious abuse from opposing fans, he helped United to some memorable victories, including successive 1-0 home wins over local rivals Exeter City and West Bromwich Albion in New Year 1992, scoring the winner in both games.
Off the pitch, he always had an eye for a headline.
He and Coronation Street star Bet Goodyear got together for one publicity stunt at Plainmoor, and the fact that it was just before a match did not get in the way.
The elder brother of Wimbledon centre-forward John Fashanu, he could be exasperating, but he loved being the centre of attention.
Paul Compton, who was youth coach and then manager to Fashanu’s player-coach during his time at United, said: “Whenever Justin’s name comes up with anyone who was at Plainmoor then, they usually have a smile on their face.
“I don’t know anybody who doesn’t speak fondly of him at our club, and that’s a legacy in itself.”
After he left Plainmoor, with the arrival of Neil Warnock as manager in February 1993, Fashanu drifted around several clubs in Scotland, Scandinavia and the United States.
There was a warrant for his arrest in the US when he fled back to the UK in the Spring of 1998, and he is believed to have committed suicide in a lock-up garage in Shoreditch on May 2.
Ironically, some of the young players who had been his teammates at Plainmoor were nearby that very day, trying to win promotion at Leyton Orient in the last match of the 1997-98 season.
Fashanu was only 37.