You may not know the name Anton Hysén, but for two years he was the only gay man in professional soccer.
Called a ‘global one-off’, the 22-year-old Sweden-based star shocked the world when he came out as openly gay. Not only that, the reaction was mostly positive.
The youngest son of a professional football family, his father is the legendary player and manager Glenn Hysén. He also has two older brothers in other Swedish soccer teams.
The UK-born Utsiktens BK player spoke to Gay Star News in the beautiful city of Gothenburg about growing up, coming out, dating and the problems with gay pride.
He also talks about being the middle man between Justin Fashanu, the English player who came out as gay in 1990 and killed himself in 1998, and Robbie Rogers, the American who came out, retired, and returned to glory at LA Galaxy.
When did you move to Sweden?
I think I was three. Dad was playing football in Liverpool so then we moved over to Gothenburg because he wanted to get back to his family. I didn’t want to go to Sweden, but his family was here. Of course my mom has some family here too but she wanted to stay in England.
Would you say Gothenburg is your home?
I always miss Liverpool. I was always back and forth, I always go back. Liverpool is my home for me. I’ve been living here for a longer time, now, so this is my base.
What was it like growing up?
Very sporty. I had a pretty good childhood, I had a lot of friends, had good family. I never really had any problems. I was a bit of a prankster in school. I did a lot of stupid stuff, so I had fun. I still do.
What was the funniest or weirdest prank you pulled at school?
It was far more over-the-line of being a prank! But I put a tack with the needle pointing up on the chair for the teacher because I hated her. I thought ‘You’re gonna get it now!’ But then she hurt herself, but that was just mean. I wasn’t the most loved kid in the school.
When you first started playing football, how much of it was you and how much of it was your dad?
I’d say it was like 50/50, because he’s a big footballer. But he can’t pressure, I mean people do, but he always said that he’s not going to pressure anyone to do anything that they don’t want to. But I kind of started it myself but then it was like, if you want to do it you gotta stay committed. At the age of 14, 15, when you really get serious, that’s when you make your choice. That was when my part came in and I knew I really wanted to play football.
What team did you support as a kid?
I was Liverpool. Always. And I’ve always been an England fan. Since I’m born there, my first citizenship is there, my language, my friends, everything.
That’s why I get bullied by my friends in Sweden, because I’m more Swedish. But I’m half English, since I can get the passport whenever I want, and got bank accounts and stuff in England.
What kind of players did you aspire to be like?
I’ve always liked Steven Gerrard. Always Steven Gerrard. He’s been in Liverpool and in England obviously since he’s been young. So it’s gotta be him.
When did you first decide to be open about being gay?
I had that thought about it for a second, but then again I was like, fuck it. People are always going to say whatever they’re going to say, and people gets stuff said to them no matter who you are and what you do, so I was like, fuck it. I’m just going to tell whoever I want to tell and those who don’t like it, they don’t like it.
When you did come out, did you expect the reaction you got?
No. I thought that so much more people would be negative. But I’ve had a pretty good response.
Were you advised to not come out by anyone?
My mom was really worried about me coming out. She told me, ‘You gotta think this through, because once you come out, that’s it.’ She was worried about my career, about the reaction, but it was fine.
Before you, Justin Fashanu was the first and only gay man to come out in football. Did his story make you afraid at all?
Time has moved on a lot since Justin Fashanu, not just in England but everywhere. When he died in 1998, the press was really bad and the atmosphere was bad. But time has moved on.
Now that Robbie Rogers has also come out, do you feel less alone?
No, I don’t feel alone. I’ve never felt alone after I came out. There was a lot of support for me, I had really great friends around me at the time. Robbie Rogers is in a league far higher than me, so there must have been a lot more pressure on him.
Do you fancy him?
No I don’t. He’s not really my type!
Who is your type?
Ah…dark-featured, masculine, tattooed. Steven Gerrard, maybe!
(This is Steven Gerrard).
On Twitter, it said it was your first Pride?
I’m not a big Pride person because I think it’s a good thing that we have it. We obviously need it. But sometimes when there’s like naked people running around with flags, “I’m gay yay for me”, that’s what some people that watch the parade are like “Woah, is everyone like that? Is that how it is? Is that how they wanna show themselves?”
That’s like, too much coz not even straight people do it. But I mean it’s a good thing, I’m just not a big Pride person. But this year I kind of thought I’d join in the parade and walk with my cousin.
She always wanted me to go and she was the first person I came out to, and yeah, I just wanted to try it. See how it is. Maybe next year I’ll be the naked one!
Do you have a boyfriend?
I don’t. I used to have one a couple of months ago but it was kinda…no way! It wasn’t really serious I think.
When you’re on a date, do you find it hard? Do people come up to you and know who you are?
See, I haven’t been on a date ever! Not a real formal date no. But I’d be saying yes to that question. There would be people who would do that here.
You were on ‘Let’s Dance’, the Swedish version of Strictly Come Dancing and Dancing With The Stars. You’re one of the only gay winners of the show. How does that feel?
That’s nice. I never really thought about that! Now I feel good. It feels amazing. Proud of myself.
Coming back to Gothenburg, is it important to you that this is your first Pride?
Gothenburg is always Gothenburg, it’s the best city in this country I think. I love this place. Everyone else wants to go to Stockholm, but I always want to go here. It means a lot, it’s Gothenburg.
How would you describe Gothenburg to people?
The first thing I would say is, of course you should visit Stockholm. It’s the capital. They have stuff we don’t have. But here’s there’s laid-back people, everything is just fine here. There’s cafes everywhere, there’s just so much culture in this town and there’s an all around nice town for people who want to have a good time.
Where do you see yourself in the years to come in football?
I’d love to play for Liverpool, but I need to get better if I’m going to do that. I want to go to the US, Australia, someplace warm. But I’d never say never to go back to England to play. Just get out of here. It’s not that I’m tired of this place but I want to see something new.
Where do you see yourself going personally?
I have no idea. I just hope I’m still the same, a spontaneous happy guy.
And finally, how would you like to be remembered?
Just as myself, the guy that tried to show the way. The person that was himself and tried to inspire people to be themselves and live their life.