Former Chelsea player Graeme Le Saux, who was dogged with rumours about his sexuality throughout his career, has said that homophobic taunts nearly drove him out of the game altogether.
In his autobiography Left Field, to be published next week, the footballer names players who taunted with anti-gay comments.
Le Saux accuses former England captain David Beckham of calling him a ‘poof’ although he also says he does not believe Beckham is a homophobe.
A spokesman for Beckham has flatly denied he had ever used the term and accused Le Saux of trying to whip up interest in his book.
Le Saux, who played professionally from 1987 for 2005, said:
“I got plenty of comments from other players about being a “faggot” or a “queer.” Robbie Savage seemed to get a particular thrill out of it, but I guess that will not surprise anybody.”
He also detailed the catalogue of abuse he faced from Paul Ince and other professional players.
Le Saux, who is married with children, confessed that the comments about his sexuality were difficult for him to handle.
“It was hard to keep denying that I was homosexual without being disrespectful to the gay community.
“I have gay friends and I do not judge them. I am not homophobic; a gay player in a team I was playing for would not be an issue for me.”
An incident during a 1999 Chelsea-Liverpool match at Stamford Bridge when player Robbie Fowler “bent over” on the pitch as Le Saux was waiting to take a penalty and invited him to have anal sex with him is covered in detail in extracts published today in The Times.
The referee did not take immediate action against Fowler, and Le Saux claims the game is tolerant of gay hate.
He also said that England manager Kevin Keegan backed away from forcing Fowler to apologise for his homophobic behaviour.
“The sport has not confronted homophobia because the gay footballers who are playing in our leagues are too frightened to declare their sexuality and cope with the backlash,” Le Saux wrote.
“Unless there is a powerful voice for a minority group, football will never make provision for it.
“The abuse I had to suffer would be multiplied a hundredfold for a player who was openly gay. The burden would be too much.
“I think of the stick I had from the fans and it made me feel nervous before I got on the pitch. I knew I would be targeted in the warm-up.
“Every time I ran to the side there was a group of people giving me abuse.
“Suddenly, all the anger and prejudice hidden away under the surface of everyday life starts spewing out of them. You get a sense of the mentality of the mob.
“If the game starts badly they will turn their anger and their frustration on you. And then a whole stadium will start singing about how you take it up the ass.”
In his autobiography published in 2005, Fowler defended his actions.
“Football’s a tough sport and to get to the top you have to be incredibly thick-skinned,” he wrote.
“A bit of name-calling never hurt anyone and the truth is I wasn’t being homophobic, merely trying to exploit a known weakness in an opponent who had done me a number of times.”