The leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband has sent a message of support to recently out gay footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger as he came out as gay earlier today.

Former Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger today announced he is gay, saying “I’ve never been ashamed of the way I am”.

Miliband joins Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who both congratulated the star for coming out.

He tweeted this evening of the “bravery” and “courage” Hitzlsperger showed by coming out, saying he set an example for young people.

Figures in the world of football and politics, including Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker and Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton have praised Hitzlsperger for his openness.

Minister for Sport and Equalities Helen Grant said to PinkNews.co.uk: “It’s great news that Thomas Hitzlsperger has had the courage to come out today. While we have made great progress in shifting  attitudes towards  the gay community, there are still many people who have hidden or who are still hiding their sexuality, through fear of homophobia. There is still more we can all do to help tackle homophobia in sport.”

High-profile athletes from other sports have openly discussed their sexuality in recent years, with Olympic diver Tom Daley revealing in December he was in a relationship with a man.

But Hitzlsperger is only the fourth footballer to do so publicly.

There are currently no known openly gay footballers in the English and Scottish professional leagues.

Former Leeds and US winger Robbie Rogers came out as gay and quit English football in February 2013.

He later reversed his decision to quit the game and signed for LA Galaxy – but as of yet Rogers has no plans to return to the English league.

Before Rogers’ revelation, only two footballers had publicly said they were gay.

Justin Fashanu was the first professional footballer in Britain to come out, in 1990, before he took his own life eight years later, aged 37.

Swedish lower league player Anton Hysen – son of former Liverpool defender Glenn Hysen – came out in an interview with a Swedish football magazine in 2011.