12 Jan 2014

Hitzlsperger: friends told him not to come out while playing

9:27 am on 12 January 2014

Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger considered coming out as gay while still playing football at the top level.

But he says he opted not to after advice from friends.

The 31-year-old, capped more than 50 times for Germany, announced he was gay this week, the first high-profile German player to do so and the first to have played regularly in the English Premier League.

Hitzlsperger told the BBC that the past few days had been "intense", and he's been overwhelmed by the response, which has all been very positive.

He says he asked friends a couple of years ago about going public but they just told him to keep his head down and play football.

Hitzlsperger, once known for his powerful free kicks, says he hopes one day players will feel comfortable about coming out as gay while still playing.

Despite football's global popularity, the sport has seen very few gay players come out, especially during their active careers as the fear of a negative reaction from coaches, team-mates and fans forces them to keep their sexuality secret.

Britain's most famous case was that of former Norwich City striker Justin Fashanu, who came out in a tabloid newspaper in 1990 and committed suicide eight years later.

Former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers quit soccer and came out as gay after being released by the Yorkshire club last year.

The American's decision to restart his career at Los Angeles Galaxy prompted the New York Times to dub him "the first openly gay man to participate in a prominent North American pro league" when he made his debut against the Columbus Crew in May.