Zander Murray: First openly gay male Scottish footballer to retire27 December 2023
Zander Murray led Edinburgh's 2023 Pride march
Zander Murray is excited about his future because his life has already changed so much in the past year.
After making the headlines in 2022 as the first male Scottish senior player to come out as gay, he has been on a personal journey which now sees him planning a future beyond playing the sport which has dominated his life.
"The big thing is, it's my final season as a footballer. I think you just know when your time is up and that's where I'm at. You just know when the right time is," he said.
"I have achieved what I wanted to. I wanted to play in the league and I have done that. And I feel with what is happening off the pitch for me, I don't really want to go on any further."
The 32-year-old forward from Glasgow struggled for years with his sexuality, realising that coming out would be difficult in the world of football. He spoke to his family in 2021 but it took another 18 months before he told the rest of the world through a Facebook post.
At the time he was playing for Lowland league side Gala Fairydean Rovers, where he had scored more than 100 goals.
In January he signed for Bonnyrigg Rose, fulfilling his life-long ambition to play in the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL).
But he returned to Gala in the autumn and it is where he will see out the rest of his playing career. It is a place he holds dear.
"It is nice to stay and finish my career there. The people there have been a massive help to me. They're people that I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life. The club is very important to me," he said.
This season will be Zander's last playing football
Zander has spoken publicly about the support and kindness he was shown by Gala's management, players and fans when he came out.
They made him feel safe and secure both publicly and in private, as he said in a BBC Scotland documentary he presented about homophobia and football in March.
"I could just be myself. Not just on the pitch, but in the dressing room. I could just be myself and it was good that all my sort of initial fears about being in the dressing room again, how that was going to be scary, it was nothing," he said.
That documentary changed everything for him.
"The reaction was unbelievable. It took me by surprise. I got more letters from that than from when I came out. I realised that it really hit the mark. It was a euphoric feeling," he said.
He admits, though, that his newly-raised profile has not always been easy to cope with.
"I didn't realise I was an introvert until this all happened. It's quite tough being in the public eye. It was well worth it but it has been a crazy time off the pitch," he said.
Feeling 'part of something'
One highlight of 2023 was getting to lead the Pride march in Edinburgh.
"It was overwhelming to be able to lead something so amazing. It was monumental and something I'd been so afraid of for years," he said.
"I had struggled for years not knowing where I fitted in, especially playing football. I never knew where I stood with people.
"So I just felt seeing all those happy, smiling faces that it's beautiful to feel you are part of something. It's lovely. Lovely."
Feeling part of the wider LGBT community has led Zander into footballing academies and clubs, where he speaks to young players about his own story, homophobia and inclusivity.
He has been working with the charity Time for Inclusive Education (TIE), visiting youth teams all over Scotland. He was also an ambassador at the Gay Games 2023 in Hong Kong in November.
And the work he has being doing with charities is helping him plan out a post-football career.
"I have started doing corporate speaking, going in to speak to businesses and speaking to very male-dominated areas like construction. I talk to people about my experiences and help them to talk about these issues," he said.
He is also considering coaching women's football. He has nothing but praise for the way his team-mates and supporters have treated him since coming out but he recognises that the men's game still has a long way to go to match the inclusivity of women's football.
"I am more comfortable there. I have to accept that I am never going to be my true authentic self in a dressing room full of straight men. That's just the way it is. Everybody has been great but that's just the truth," he said.
"But the women's game is welcoming. I feel like it is a safe space. Maybe it's my own internal issue but I wouldn't feel comfortable as a coach in the men's game. I feel that's all on me."
Zander helped host the Gay Games in Hong Kong in the autumn
One slight disappointment is that his story has not convinced more gay players to come out, although he understands why that is.
"I suspect I hoped it might have an effect but you still see the abuse people get. You can see it under my social media posts, when I post about inclusion," he said.
Zander has faced huge changes over the past year but he is optimistic about the future.
"Fifteen months ago I was scared. Now I am excited. I can see a path. There's a space for me in this area. I always wanted to play football and I worried about what I would find in life that would give me that same buzz.
"But I have found it. I have found it.
"When I get thanked by someone for doing this I realise I see myself keeping on. And as long as I can help even one person, I'll never give up."
This news item was provided by the BBC Sport - Football website - the original link is: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-67771203?at_medium=RSS&at_campaign=KARANGA