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“The way to make change is to see gay and bi people out on the pitch.”

The legendary former Everton goalkeeper and Wales international, Neville Southall has signed the #ComeOut2Play campaign.

It makes him the first major professional footballer (current or past) to support the drive to help gay and bi players who are worried about coming out. The campaign currently has an extraordinary reach of 33 million people and is trending worldwide on the Thunderclap website.

‘Big Nev’ exclusively told OutNews Global he hopes the #ComeOut2Play campaign will give a player the confidence and reassurance they need to be open about their sexuality. In his famous ‘tell it like it is’ style, he said: “Most people don’t give a monkey’s if you’re gay. People don’t care but in the game sometimes it goes back to stereotypes.

“The way to make change is to see gay and bi people out on the pitch. That first player will get a bit of grief but it’ll be amazing for them too.

“I think a gay footballer will make a fortune on it. The first one will have all sorts at their feet. Columns, shows all sorts. The second one won’t, the third one won’t so it’s there for the taking.”

‘Big Nev’ Neville is proud to be a vocal LGBT+ ally and campaigner

There are those who worry about the reaction a gay or bi male player would get from fellow players and fans but Southall doesn’t see that happening: “Your fans will protect you and love you and that’s 40,000 people on your side when you’re on the pitch.

“Once inside the dressing room, other players would be supportive, I think. Players don’t care. I think we make a bit too much of it sometimes, all this sexuality thing in football. Banter’s banter.

“Players aren’t going to bully them for being gay because they already have a playing relationship together. They’re mates. Yeah we all take the piss out of each other in the showers and that and there’s nothing sacred but as footballers we know we might be the one to make the mistake today in the match so we protect our own.”

Some are questioning why no current player has decided to lend their weight to the campaign.

‘Big Nev’ says he thinks he knows why: “I think current players haven’t signed the campaign yet because clubs are so tight on what people say and nobody says what they really mean anymore. It’s all so controlled. Everybody is so PC now that they don’t want to say something controversial.

“And you know what? If a player signs the campaign the tabloids might start investigating their life and they don’t want that. Footballers are shit-scared of the media.”

Southall was arguably the best goalkeeper in the world at the height of his career in the 80s, racking up a record-breaking 751 appearances for Everton and 92 Wales caps.

Neville Southall played in goal for Everton and for Wales in internationals

He is now an outspoken supporter for disadvantaged people living in poorer communities and counts himself as a proud LGBT+ ally, often tweeting in solidarity to his 100k followers.

The English Football League has already given the #ComeOut2Play campaign its support and last week Middlesbrough Football Club became the first team to sign up.

EFL Chief Executive, Shaun Harvey, said: “The EFL is pleased to support the upcoming Come Out 2 Play initiative, in order to help raise awareness, whilst also promoting the values of the game and ensuring football provides everyone with a safe and welcoming environment.”

Political figures including shadow minister Dawn Butler, David Lammy MP and Sarah Brown have signed up to the drive, as have celebrities John Bishop, Alan Carr, Russell Grant, Katie Price, Piers Morgan, Denise Welch and many more.

Just a few of the campaign’s high profile supporters who have signed up online

Neville Southall’s support comes after he posted on Twitter in support of the LGBT+ community. The tweet received some transphobic and homophobic replies from a number of his 100k followers. In his tweet he said: “Why are some people shit scared of the LGBT community…I have no idea myself apart from ignorance or intolerance…”

He received praise from many of his followers but others were less supportive. @SerbYid wrote: “Lol the problem is they say they want to be united with the rest of the world but they act completely differently. They want special treatment”

Meanwhile, @BlueGridiron took the opportunity to criticise the trans community…

…as did @limewirerules who said: “Because the LGBT crowd call you a bigot if you say you don’t want your 8 year old son to mutilate his own genitals. Think.”

Southall responded to the criticism, urging people to talk to members of the LGBT+ community and look at things from other people’s points of view.

One of the #ComeOut2Play campaign leaders, the broadcaster and editor-at-large of OutNews Global Andy West said: “Neville Southall’s support means the campaign is now reaching more people than ever and it’s so important we have backing from people in the game.

“We are talking to players who are concerned about coming out and it’s great to hear that our campaign is achieving its goal: to show players that they will get huge support if they choose of their own free will to be open.

“Nobody should be pressured to come out but we are proving that millions of people in the UK today are ready to stand alongside any LGBT player who decides to come out.”

Join Neville Southall now by signing the campaign here!

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