A survey of 3,500 football fans says they blame football agents and clubs for the lack of openly gay players.

According to the University of Staffordshire research, more than 90 per cent of those questioned said they would support a gay player and felt that homophobia has no place in the sport.

But over 40 per cent blamed agents and clubs for dissuading players from coming out and one respondent cited the issue of “brand damage”.

In the past, advocates for gay and lesbian sports stars have claimed that coming out as gay can affect sponsorship deals.

Only one British professional player, Justin Fashanu, has ever come out. The star later killed himself.
Professor Ellis Cashmore, who led the study, said: “Football’s gay players have been reluctant to come out. Their reasons for remaining silent lie inside the football industry rather than in the crowds.

“Most fans are embarrassed by the popular conception of football as a homophobic environment. It is an impression, they believe, maintained by a code of silence orchestrated and enforced by agents and clubs.”

However, Mel Stein, the chairman of the Association of Football Agents, attacked the research.

“It is utter nonsense to suggest that a sports agent would place any pressure on a client confirming or denying or concealing his sexual status,” he told the Independent.

“In the 21st century I think that a heterosexual affair would be far more damaging to a player’s image than any acknowledgement of a player’s homosexuality as far as sponsors were concerned.”