Openly gay former Leeds United director David Haigh has revealed that at least 20 football players throughout the Premier League and Championship are gay but are too 'afraid' to come out publicly.
Haigh was openly gay during his time as Leeds managing director in 2013/14, and says many homosexual players have since confided in him as a result. He believes that if the players banded together and went public as a group, then fans would accept them.
There are 4,000 professional players in the UK, but no one has openly come out, but Haigh told the Mirror: "Twenty is a fair number in my view, though probably a gross under-estimate.
“They are still playing, in the Premier League and Championship, but I won’t mention names as a witch hunt helps no one. 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.
“But football needs them to go public. Those who did would be brave – but they’d get a lot of support."
The 40-year-old was openly gay whilst serving on the board with Leeds United and says many gay footballers confided in him as a result, but he claims some players are open about being gay with their teammates, but are too afraid to tell the fans and wider public about their sexuality.
He added: “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. In those cases, we would have discussed ways forward.
“Being gay is still seen as a handicap and players get enough abuse on the pitch as it is. 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."
He said: “I don’t think gay footballers would face a terrible time today. 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 [the last top player to come out, received widespread abuse]. I think things have changed massively since then, so I would hope the reaction would not be the same today."
One of the only speed bumps he acknowledges is that particular countries do not support gay relationships, and as such clubs and sponsors could pose as a barrier.
“I think supporting gay players would be very beneficial from a commercial perspective. Clubs would bring in new fans worldwide from the coverage. But players are still scared to come out,” he added.