In an exclusive interview with Andy West, Former Managing Director of Leeds United David Haigh says he knows at least 20 male Premier League and Championship footballers who are gay but they’re too afraid to come out.
The former Premiership executive said: “I know a lot and by a lot I’m saying double figures and personally I think if they all came out at the same time they’d be okay.”
His comments come after Belgium defender Carl Hoefkens revealed he’d played with two premier league footballers who were openly gay but were publicly ‘in the closet’.
David Haigh was MD at Leeds United FC between 2013-2014 and was open about his sexuality with board members and fans.
He said some players are open about being gay with teammates even though they feel too scared to tell their fans: “Footballers aren’t hiding it from the people they know. They go to gay bars and they don’t hide their partners.
“I really don’t want to out anyone by mistake and I would never, ever want to pressurise anyone into doing something they don’t want to do but let’s say there might have hypothetically been 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.
In his interview with De Zontag, Carl Hoefkens, who played for Stoke and West Brom in 2005-2009, said: “I played alongside three gay footballers, including one who was a genuinely big name,” said Hoefkens. “They did not hide who they were in the dressing-room.”
David Haigh says there’s a mixed reaction in the changing rooms at major clubs when one of the players is gay: “Footballers go to gay bars and a lot of them are open about it.”
“With some of the older players there’s still a bit of changing room homophobia but for the younger ones things have just changed now. On the England team for instance you have a majority of younger people so it’d be easier there I’m sure.”
David says he was personally contacted by gay players from different top flight clubs but there are powerful people in the background making it very difficult to come out.
“You can understand today young kids have a brand with sponsors and being gay is still seen as a handicap and players get enough abuse on the pitch as it is. Agents all care about money. Very few care about changing anything it’s all about can we get more money?
“The guys I know live and breathe football and it’s all they’ve ever known since joining academies as kids. Suddenly for them to be known for their sexuality would be unsettling for them to say the least.
“Football needs to have people come out. The first guy to do it would be brave, yes, but they’d also get a lot of support.”
The last Premier League player to come out was Justin Fashanu in the 1990s and many are still haunted by the terrible reaction he received from fans, club executives, the press and those in his personal life. David believes times have changed:
“I don’t think gay footballers would face a terrible time today. I think that players who came out would receive a lot of support. Opposing fans who get drunk would likely be much more aggressive I know. Anything they can use, they will use against players as insults to try and intimidate them on the pitch and affect the outcome on the pitch.”
“I would hope it wouldn’t be like Justin Fashanu. I think things have changed massively since then so I would hope the reaction wouldn’t be the same today.”
“You do still get old school powerful men at the top of football running and owning clubs who are very homophobic; and clubs owned by people from countries like Dubai or Russia where being gay is illegal or frowned upon aren’t likely to support gay footballers. I think the ownership structure is a problem.”
The Premier League is big money and with players sponsored millions of pounds on top of huge signing fees, some claim money is the main reason gay footballers hide their sexuality; but David knows how money works in football and he says clubs – and players – stand to do well from speaking out:
“I think from a club perspective, supporting gay players would be a very beneficial thing from a commercial perspective. They’d make a lot of money and bring in a lot of new fans worldwide from the coverage.
“Players too, they would get a lot of positive press and a whole career from coming out if they were the first to stand up. But they’re scared.”
There are 4,000 professional footballers in the UK and not one of them is openly gay. David Haigh says just reading some of the tabloid coverage today shows why that is:
“Football needs to have people come out but I think it can feel like a witch hunt and that doesn’t encourage young people who care about their image.
“It’s as though it’s a shameful secret. It all seems shadowy which is very unhelpful.”