A GAY Premier League footballer today reveals the daily torment of keeping his sexuality secret from team-mates.
In an open letter — aimed at authorities and fans — he says he's taking the “huge step” of opening up over his ordeal
But he says football is not ready for an openly gay player and he is scared to reveal his identity.
He is being supported by the Justin Fashanu Foundation, run by the tragic footballer’s niece Amal.
The charity, fighting homophobia and racism in football, handed us the letter to raise awareness of the issues facing gay stars.
In it the player writes: “I am gay. Even writing that down in this letter is a big step for me.
"But only my family members and a select group of friends are aware of my sexuality. I don’t feel ready to share it with my team or my manager.”
He goes on: “How does it feel having to live like this? Day-to-day, it can be an absolute nightmare. And it is affecting my mental health more and more.
“I feel trapped and my fear is disclosing the truth about what I am will only make things worse.”
There are currently no openly gay or bisexual male professional footballers in the UK.
But Watford captain Troy Deeney believes every team has at least one — and backed them to come out.
He said: “Once the first comes out, there would be loads.”
The PFA said it “welcomes the opportunity to work alongside any player who chooses to come out”.
The FA offered its “full support”.
Read the Premier League footballer's anguished open letter in full
AS a kid, all I ever wanted to be was a footballer.
I wasn’t interested in doing well at school.
Instead of doing homework, every spare minute I had was spent with a ball.
In the end it paid off.
But even now I still have to pinch myself when I run out and get to play each week in front of tens of thousands of people.
However there is something that sets me apart from most of the other players in the Premier League.
I am gay.
Even writing that down in this letter is a big step for me.
But only my family members and a select group of friends are aware of my sexuality. I don’t feel ready to share it with my team or my manager.
That’s hard. I spend most of my life with these guys and when we step out on the pitch we are a team.
But still, something inside me makes it impossible for me to be open with them about how I feel.
I dearly hope one day soon I will be able to.
I’ve known since I was about 19 that I was gay. How does it feel having to live like this?
Day-to-day, it can be an absolute nightmare.
And it is affecting my mental health more and more.
I feel trapped and my fear is that disclosing the truth about what I am will only make things worse.
So, although my heart often tells me I need to do it my head always says the same thing: “Why risk it all?”
I am lucky enough to earn a very good wage. I have a nice car, a wardrobe full of designer clothes and can afford to buy anything I want for my family and friends.
But one thing I am missing is companionship.
I am at an age where I would love to be in a relationship.
But because of the job I do the level of trust in having a long-term partner has to be extremely high.
So, at the moment, I avoid relationships at all.
I dearly hope I will soon meet someone who I think I will be able to trust enough.
The truth is I just don’t think football is ready yet for a player to come out.
The game would need to make radical changes in order for me to feel able to make that step. The Professional Footballers Association say they are ready to help a player to come out.
And they have said they will offer counselling and support to anyone who needs it.
This is missing the point. If I need a counsellor I can go and book a session with one whenever I want. What those running the game need to do is educate fans, players, managers, agents, club owners — basically everyone involved in the game.
If I was to make that step I’d want to know that I would be supported at each step of my journey. Right now, I don’t feel I would be.
I wish I didn’t have to live my life in such a way.
But the reality is there is still a huge amount of prejudice in football.
There are countless times I’ve heard homophobic chants and comments from supporters directed at no one in particular.
Strangely it doesn’t really bother me during the matches. I am too focused on playing.
It’s when I get back on the plane or the coach and I have time to think that it gets to me.
As things stand my plan is to carry on playing for as long as I feel able to and then come out when I have retired.
It was great last month to see Thomas Beattie raise his hand and admit to being gay. But the fact he had to wait until retirement tells you all you need to know.
Footballers are still too scared to make the step while they are playing.
For the past year I have been getting support from the Justin Fashanu Foundation, not least to cope with the toll this is all having on my mental health.
It is hard to put into words how much the Foundation has helped. It has made me feel supported and understood as well as giving me the confidence to be more open and honest with myself especially.
Without that support I really don’t know where I’d be now.
I know it might get to the point where I find it impossible to keep living a lie.
If I do my plan is to retire early and come out. I might be throwing away years of a lucrative career. But you can’t put a price on your peace of mind.
And I don’t want to live like this forever.
Help is in memory of Justin
FOOTBALL star Justin Fashanu killed himself aged 37 in 1998 — eight years after coming out as Britain’s first gay player.
He was the brother of FA Cup-winning ex-Wimbledon striker John Fashanu, 57.
Amal Fashanu, 31, set up The Justin Fashanu Foundation in her uncle’s name last year.
The charity campaigns against homophobia and racism in football and aims to raise mental health issues.
It has helped seven footballers, including two Premier League stars, who are secretly gay or bisexual.
And it has visited clubs, including Norwich City and Nottingham Forest, who Justin, left, played for, to discuss mental health and homophobia. Three Norwich players are set to be unveiled as foundation ambassadors.
Activist Amal said: “I set up the foundation because I don’t want what happened to Justin to happen to any other player.
Four who came out
FORMER Hull City youth player Thomas Beattie announced he was gay last month — the first male English footballer to do so since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
Beattie, 33, now in Singapore, said he felt unable to come out during his ten-year career. Fashanu, 37, took his own life in 1998.
Germany’s Thomas Hitzlsperger said he was gay after retiring in 2014.
Ex-Leeds and USA ace Robbie Rogers came out in 2013.
“They can end up in a football bubble where they can’t be who they are, and that’s agonising.”
She added: “That can really harm an individual’s mental health. You can feel lonely and scared and end up doing things you might re- gret which could lead to tragedy.”
“They can trust me enough to open up and I can find them the right help.”
- For more information visit the website www. thejustinfashanufoundation.com
SPORT MUST CHANGE
CAMPAIGNING charity Stonewall praised “real movement within football” — but said attitudes still need to change across sport before everyone “feels free to be themselves”.
They added: “It’s vital that allies — fans, players, clubs and leading organisations — come out in support of LGBT rights and make sport a more accepting environment for all LGBT people. The burden of social change can’t solely lie on the shoulders of LGBT athletes.
“The more support there is, the easier it will become for athletes to be open about their sexuality.
“That’s why our Rainbow Laces campaign focuses on getting more people to be visible and fierce supporters of LGBT equality in sport.
“Our work will not be finished until all LGBT people — from fans to players alike — are accepted without exception.”
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