The Gay Football Supporters Network (GSFN) has criticised the Daily Mail for publishing an article suggesting footballer Joey Barton would make a suitable “gay hero” for the sport, because it trivialises the debate about homophobia in football.

Earlier on Wednesday afternoon, Barton, 31, who is heterosexual and married, tweeted his displeasure over an article written by the Mail’s sports columnist Martin Samuel.

“So here’s a thought,” Samuel wrote. “Joey Barton continues his quest for intellectual and social respectability. Why not come out as gay?

“Instant credibility, instant respect, untouchable by the Football Association or future employers. His past misdeeds mentally reprocessed and explained.”

Barton responded on Twitter with a series of comments. He said:

“I will probably have to sue. I don’t really need the money or the hassle. So I offer this as a olive branch.

“Actually, no. Theres no olive branch. Enough’s enough. Its just wrong and a little bit weird why he would write this.

“In light of the Leveson enquiry, it seems a strange thing to print. I mean I have never even met the guy. He doesn’t know me. Shocking.”

Responding to the row, Chris Basiurski, chair of GFSN said: “We find Martin Samuel’s comments in the Daily Mail regarding Joey Barton today unhelpful as they distract from the more important message of trying to create a positive atmosphere in football for LGB&T people.

It does nothing to address the very real experiences of homophobia we see in football on a regular basis. We welcome Joey Barton’s positive contribution to the debate in the past and hope he is not discouraged from supporting the LGB&T community in the future.”

At the start of the year, Barton was praised for taking part in a BBC Three documentary about the lack of openly gay footballers.

He criticised the “archaic” views of some coaches within the industry and said it was a subject close to heart because his uncle is gay.

Last week, Manchester United goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard urged gay players to come out of the closet because “gay people need a hero”.

Former England international Gareth Southgate added that in his opinion it would not be a problem for gay footballers to be accepted in the dressing room.

In response, GFSN’s Chris Basiurski said he welcomed the positive comments, but added: “The GFSN is working to create an atmosphere in football that would allow a footballer to come out if they wanted to, free from any form of discrimination or abuse.

“We would never presume to ask someone to come out, that is a personal decision for each LGB&T individual to take. We also do not assume that any player who did come out would become an automatic hero or role model.

“Any player would be under enormous pressure, both in terms of media coverage and the response by fans and players on the pitch. Front page headlines for footballers are not always good news.”