A survey released to coincide with LGBT History Month says that the vast majority of fans strongly oppose homophobia in football.
The research, carried out at the University of Staffordshire, surveyed 3,500 fans, players and game officials.
It found that 93 per cent said there was no room for homophobia in the game and 30 per cent of players, managers, coaches and referees said they knew of at least one gay professional player.
Clubs and agents were blamed for players staying in the closet, the survey showed, and 78 per cent thought openly gay players would face hostility from fans.
Respondents suggested that things would only change once one player finds the courage to come out – or is outed by a newspaper or ex-lover.
But they thought this would take at least two years. Fans also said that players were scared about losing sponsorship deals.
Justin Fashanu, who killed himself in 1998, remains the only pro footballer to have come out as gay.
Study co-author Professor Ellis Cashmore said: “It is inconceivable that, out of an estimated 500,000 professional players around the world, not one is gay.
“The truth is that football culture is prohibitive: gay players have neither the confidence nor the inclination to come out.
“Our conclusion is that this is not a healthy condition for football and our concern is that football is, in this sense, out of tune with the rest of the sporting world.
“The survey reveals a new and surprising image of football culture, which has been characterised as stuck in the dark ages and ‘steeped in homophobia.’”
Fellow researcher Jamie Cleland, a senior lecturer in sociology and former Coventry City goalkeeper, added: “Fans think that gay players are urged by their agents and their clubs not to disclose their homosexuality.
“Fans say they are too often blamed, but over 90 per cent say there is no place for homophobia in football.”
The authors also questioned whether the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) was doing enough to support gay players.
The PFA says it has no gay members, but Prof Cashmore and Dr Cleland say three players are said to have confided in publicist Max Clifford about their sexual orientation.
They also say that recommendations from their report have been sent to the PFA, Football Association, Premier League and Football League but no responses have been received.
The full results of the survey will be revealed at an event on the university’s Stoke campus on February 23rd between 5:45pm and 7:30pm.
To book a free place or for further information contact Clare Harp on the Equality and Diversity Team via email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01782 292775.