JUSTIN Fashanu was inducted into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in February this year.

He was a prolific striker for Norwich and became the first black footballer to command a £1 million transfer fee when he made the switch to Nottingham Forest in 1981.

A two-year spell at Brighton and Hove Albion came between 1985 and 1987, in which he made 16 appearances.

In 1990, Justin became the first professional footballer to come out as gay in England.

No professional footballer in the country has done this since.

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But in 1998, aged just 37, he took his own life.

To mark Black History Month, local historian Alf Le Flohic sought to speak with some of those who had known the player during his time in Brighton.

He said: “Justin left Brighton the summer I arrived here. Brighton, and indeed the UK as a whole, was nowhere near as tolerant of its LGBT residents as it is now. And Brighton was exceedingly white back then too.

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"It got me wondering what life for him must have been like as a black gay man. The closest I was going to get was to talk to people who actually met him.”

The first person Mr Le Flohic met was Kevin Weaver, an expressive arts graduate from what was then Brighton Polytechnic. He was studying in the city when he spotted Justin on the promenade one day and went over to speak with him.

He said: “He was on crutches (following a knee injury) hobbling along the seafront near the main pier, and as a lifelong Norwich supporter I immediately recognised him and introduced myself.

“He invited me to his flat one Sunday and I met some of his Christian friends. He was keen to convert me, but I told him I wasn’t interested.

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“I found his flat dark and quite depressing. He didn’t have much furniture and it was devoid of character, personal touches or warmth.

“It was basically one long floor with a galley type kitchen. However, the flat was in contrast to Justin’s character, which was open, warm and very friendly. He had a bright white smile and his eyes lit up. His laugh was infectious too and he was interested in everyone.

“We immediately hit it off, though he never mentioned his struggle with his sexuality.

“We went to several straight clubs including Savannah – I think we saw Princess, a black soul singer from London – and The Escape Club [now Patterns in Marine Parade]. We didn’t seem to discuss football much – he wasn’t full of himself and boastful at all. He seemed a bit lost to me.”

Kevin photographed Justin at his flat in Regency Square the images above and below.

Later, as a photojournalist, Kevin would be sent to the lock-up garage in London where Justin had taken his own life, tasked with capturing the scene of a “celebrity suicide”.

He said: “I saw a yellow and green Norwich City scarf tied to the door handle.

“I was stunned. It was a tragic end for a lovely, misunderstood person who I counted as a friend.”

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Mr Le Flohic also spoke with another University of Brighton graduate, Iain Gowers, who met Justin in the city in 1996, when he was playing football for a club in Atlanta, America.

Iain remembered being approached by a journalist, who was looking for information on Justin, while spending a night at the Revenge nightclub on Brighton seafront.

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On a separate occasion, he said Justin told him not to leave the club at the same time as him.

“He said ‘you don’t want to be outside, you’re the perfect person that they want me to be photographed with’,” Iain recalled. “I said to him when I saw him next, ‘does that mean that they follow you home?’. He said ‘yeah’, he gets his taxi home and then they literally drive up, sit outside and wait for him.”

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In March 1998, a 17-year-old boy in Maryland, America, accused Justin of sexual assault.

Homosexual acts were illegal in the state at the time. Fearing he would be presumed guilty, Justin returned to the UK but was found hanged on May 3.

Mr Le Flohic said: “It was unexpectedly emotional talking to Justin’s friends and acquaintances. More than 30 years after his death, people still loved and missed him.”