Footballer Jordan Henderson has offered a lukewarm apology to the LGBTQ+ community after facing backlash over his controversial move to Saudi Arabia.
The 33-year-old former England midfielder was criticised by LGBTQ+ fans after the move to Saudi Arabian team Al-Ettifaq, with fans saying they were “appalled” by him playing in a country where it is illegal to be gay, after years of dedicated LGBTQ+ allyship.
During his career, Henderson was well-known for supporting queer football fans, including backing Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign, and being nominated for Football Ally at the LGBT+ Awards in 2021.
The decision to transfer to the Gulf was slammed by LGBTQ+ fans, as well as former Lioness Jill Scott, who explained: “I’m a Jordan Henderson fan, but now I know I wouldn’t be welcome if I wanted to watch him play football.”
On Wednesday (17 January), it was announced that Henderson had quit Al-Ettifaq, and has now signed with Dutch team Ajax.
But while he terminated his contract with Al-Ettifaq after only six months, Henderson explained that the move was “nothing other than a football decision”.
Speaking at his first press conference as an Ajax player on Friday (19 January), Jordan Henderson said that he has “full respect” for the Saudi Arabian league, and that the decision to play for Al-Ettifaq was “right for me and my family at the time”.
He went on to say: “In life, if you want to call them regrets or mistakes, you can call them that. But at the same time, they are only mistakes if you do not learn from them.
“I learnt a lot out in Saudi and I haven’t got a bad word to say. I have friends over there I will speak to forever.”
Jordan Henderson wearing the rainbow captain armband in support of the LGBTQ+ community (Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)
When asked about backlash from the LGBTQ+ community, he explained: “If anyone was offended or feels I have upset them, that’s on me, that was my decision, and I apologise for that. That was never my intention. I just want to look forward now and be the best player I can be for Ajax.”
He added: “Listen, I said six months ago, if I offended anybody or let them down then I apologise for that. I will apologise again.
“But my beliefs have never changed and never will. Again, I can only apologise if people feel let down, but I have not changed as a person and never have.”
Jordan Henderson joined Al Ettifaq for a fee thought to be in the region of £12 million ($15 million) after 12 years at Anfield. He was said to be earning £350,000 ($443,000) a week in Saudi Arabia.