Fash: ITV announces new heartbreaking drama about footballer Justin Fashanu

Justin and John Fashanu (Handout from Courtney Boyce, ITV/ITVX, Fash)
Justin and John Fashanu (Handout from Courtney Boyce, ITV/ITVX, Fash)

ITV has commissioned a new drama series, Fash, about the relationship between Justin Fashanu, the first black British footballer to be sold to a club for £1 million, and his brother, John.

Kwame Kwei-Armah OBE, the BAFTA-nominated writer (Elmina’s Kitchen, Breaking) and the current the artistic director of the Young Vic, is behind the new series.

In 1981 Justin signed to Nottingham Forest, making footballing history. Then nine years later he came out as gay – the first professional footballer to do so. There was not one element of his life that was not impacted: he was ostracised by his family and his football career fell flat. In 1998 he died by suicide.

At the same time, his younger brother, John, was also a footballer. In 1981 John was signed to Norwich City. As Justin’s life became news-fodder, John became the more famous of the duo and a rift formed between them. By the time of Justin’s death the two brothers were not on speaking terms.

In this new series Kwei-Armah will look at the story behind the headlines, delving into the Fashanus’ childhoods (part of which was spent in the care of a white foster family), inspecting institutional prejudices, notions of masculinity, racism and homophobia, while unpacking the breakdown of their relationship. The new series also looks at the longterm and ongoing impact of these inprejudices in the sport today.

Ostracised: Justin Fashanu (Allsport UK/Allsport/Getty Images)
Ostracised: Justin Fashanu (Allsport UK/Allsport/Getty Images)

Kwei-Armah said: “I grew up watching the Fashanu brothers. I was fascinated by them. Inspired by them. As an adult, my heart breaks for them. ‘The past is a foreign land’, the saying goes, ‘they do things differently there’. In Fash, I wanted to dive into that past, particularly one that has so many resonances with today.”

Justin’s brother John has been working as consultant on the series, as has LGBT activist, and friend of Justin’s, Peter Tatchell.

Fashanu said: “Much has been said and written about the relationship Justin and I shared over the years, but drama of this type has an ability to delve right to the beating heart and truth of events in a way other media can’t.”

Tatchell said: “This is a powerful, moving life story that needs to be told. I am very honoured to act as a consultant to the production team, based on my friendship with Justin Fashanu in the 1980s.”

Dominic Treadwell-Collins (A Very English Scandal, Holding, EastEnders) and Alexander Lamb (We Hunt Together, The Bay, Ackley Bridge) are executive producing the series.

ITV’s Head of Drama, Polly Hill, said: “Kwame’s scripts are brilliant and tell a story that is heart-breaking and sadly still relevant today. It is always a huge responsibility telling a true story, and Kwame and the team at [drama label] Happy Prince tell Justin and John’s story with all the truth, passion and sensitivity it deserves. I’m delighted it’s found a home on ITV.”

Fash will be available as a boxset on ITVX after the first episode has aired on ITV