A leading English footballer has slammed the lack of support for gay players and questioned why football should be one of the only industries where people cannot be out and proud.
David James, the Portsmouth goalkeeper, wrote in his fortnightly column in The Observer that he has gay friends, but did not reveal if any are other footballers.
“If one in 10 people are gay, where are all the gay Premiership stars?” asked James, who has played for England 34 times.
“It’s a question that’s often asked, but there are only whispers, dodgy rumours and malicious media gossip for answers.
“Football, it seems, is one of the last professional environments where you can’t be out and proud.
“In every other entertainment industry we have gay stars. Why should football be different?
“Are football fans really so incapable of watching a gay player without abusing him?”
Mr James conceded that the attitudes within the game make it unlikely that any players will come out in the near future, but the 36-year-old argued that gay footballers could make a lot of money from being out and proud.
“Just imagine, football’s first gay couple playing for rival teams, arguing about offside decisions over the dinner table,” he wrote.
“They would do Hello! magazine, chatshows, advertisements. Would it upset players being naked in the changing room together?
“What about the after-hours highly homoerotic activities – indulging in football threesomes and roastings? Would football culture ever be the same again?”
The Football Association has banned homophobic chanting at football matches from next season, and defended its record with regard to gay issues.
Stonewall, the gay rights organisation, welcomed Mr James’ words of support.
“While we would welcome a Premiership club footballer coming out, it is unlikely until the whole culture of the game changes and that means leadership from the top in particular from the FA,” said Stonewall’s director of parliamentary and public affairs, Alan Wardle.
“Gay people need to be supported wherever they are in the workplace and in football that support is sadly lacking.”
Mr James, who has played for Watford, Liverpool, Aston Villa, West Ham, Manchester City and Portsmouth, commented on his own image:
“Down the years I could easily have been accused of being gay. I was a bit different – I modelled for Giorgio Armani, sparking rumours over which designers wanted to get into my pants; I practised yoga; I read, I paint.
“I’ve been to The Boardwalk – a gay club in Manchester – although I was with my wife at the time, and I’ve even driven past the local gay dogging spot in Devon – there were a couple of guys in tight black shorts and vests looking like Village People try-outs.
“I have a number of gay friends and although they wouldn’t want me shouting from the rooftops about their sexuality, I’d like to encourage them to come out. I accept that it’s easy for me to say that, but how many more years will it be before we can talk openly about gay men playing professional football?
“It’ll still take some sort of new age hero to be the first to come out, but I just hope, for football’s sake, that it happens soon.”