At least eight professional footballers have come out as gay within the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), but most say they fear going public because they anticipate a massive backlash from the media and supporters.

The Observer reports that Clarke Carlisle, chairman of the PFA, told LGBT campaigners that eight members of the association had approached him to say that they are gay.

He added that seven of those had revealed that they kept their sexuality a secret from the public because they feared the reaction of fans, and of the media – but said they were not worried about the reaction of teammates and clubs.

Gay Football Supporters’ Network chair Chris Basiurski said: “We have anecdotal evidence that players are out within their clubs and don’t have a problem. But we are trying to create an atmosphere for people to come out safely, but at the moment there is a big barrier. The fact is, we have never really tested the fans, both home or away, on this.

“The danger is what happens when a player comes out and gets loads of support and attention, but then start playing badly. The worry is that fans will start getting on their backs and they may lose the confidence of their manager and it could be connected to their sexuality.”

Last week NBA player Jason Collins became the first athlete in one of the big-four American team sports to come out as gay while an active player.

John Amaechi, a former NBA player who came out as gay after retiring, said US basketball was “light-years ahead” of British football in terms of accepting gay people.

“If it wanted to be a better, more progressive organisation that supported diversity, not because it looks pretty when you put it on the back of your annual report … it could be,” Amaechi said of the British Football Association. “It has the resources. It doesn’t want to get rid of the dinosaur, so the dinosaurs continue to roar through the hallways of football, making sure that everyone knows how you have to behave.”

Britain’s first openly gay professional footballer, Justin Fashanu, came out to press in 1990. He killed himself in 1998.

The next notable player to come out was Robbie Rogers, a former member of the US national team who had been playing for Leeds. Aged only 25, he felt he had to retire at the same time he made his announcement in February.

Earlier this week it emerged that Rogers was in the US training with LA Galaxy, signalling a possible return to the sport.