20 players have told me they’re gay, says top football boss
More than 20 football players are gay but scared to come out, the former director of a top club has said.
David Haigh, Leeds United’s openly gay ex-Managing Director, said gay footballers from both the Premier League and the Championship had approached him for advice.
Haigh, who was jailed in Dubai for more than seven months, revealed that footballers had contacted him while he was promoting LGBT rights at Leeds with Stonewall in 2013.
“There are many people, including players and agents, who approached me and 20 is a fair number in my view.”
“I wanted a group to come out together,” he added. “My figure on the number of gay players is probably a gross underestimate.
“That is from my experience. They are still playing, in the Premier League, and the Championship.
“When people feel safe, they will confide in you.”
The last player to come out while playing was Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 but died by suicide in 1998 after years of homophobic abuse.
The revelation comes just days after former Premier League footballer Carl Hoefkens revealed two of his teammates in England were out as gay to the rest of the squad.
Hoefkens, a Belgium international who played for Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion in the mid-00s, said that “one of them would even arrive at training with his boyfriend.
“They asked us to keep quiet to the outside world, but don’t ask me why.”
Haigh explained that footballers were reluctant to come out publicly because “young stars advertise brands with sponsors, and being gay is still seen as a handicap.
“To be suddenly known for their sexuality would be unsettling,” he told the Mirror.
But, Haigh said, they should still come out for the greater good.
“Football needs them to go public. Those who did would be brave – but they’d get a lot of support.”
The former Leeds director, who was in charge from 2013 to 2014, said after leaving that the club’s former co-owners tried to block him from running anti-homophobia campaigns.
He claimed that it was because of worries that these programmes could offend company members in Bahrain and Dubai.
Haigh said that the culture has “changed massively” since Fashanu died by suicide.
“Football needs to have people come out. The first guy to do it would be brave, yes, but they would also get a lot of support.
“I don’t think gay footballers would face a terrible time today,” he said. “I think that players who came out would receive support.
“Opposing fans who get drunk would likely be much more aggressive.
“I hope it would not be like Justin Fashanu. I think things have changed massively since then, so I would hope the reaction would not be the same today.”
But he said the magnitude of being the first to come out in the Premier League leaves many players scared to make a public announcement.
“Being gay is still seen as a handicap and players get enough abuse on the pitch as it is.
“Footballers are not hiding it from the people they know. They go to gay bars and they do not hide their partners.
“Let’s say hypothetically there were situations where players were facing rumours about their sexuality in the press and they came to me and asked for help,” he suggested.
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“In those cases, we would have discussed ways forward.”
Haigh said that his history at Leeds did not imply that he was talking about players at the club.
He placed part of the blame for the lack of out gay players on agents, who he said “all care about money. Very few care about changing anything.
“It is all about ‘Can we get more money?’ The guys I know live and breathe football and it is all they have ever known.”