A 17-year-old player has come out, becoming the only openly gay male professional footballer in Britain.
Blackpool forward Jake Daniels said he has received “amazing support” from his teammates after telling them about his sexuality.
He is the first professional player in British men’s football to come out publicly since Justin Fashanu.
In an interview with Sky Sports News, he said he felt ready to “be myself” after “such a long time of lying” about who he is.
The striker said he originally felt the need to hide his sexuality to become a professional footballer and wait until he was retired to come out.
“But I just knew that was just such a long time of just lying and not being able to have what I want,” he said.
Blackpool’s hot prospect, who has scored 30 goals for the under-19s this season, signed a professional contract with the club in February.
He made his first team debut earlier this month on the last day of the season, and played a major role in the team’s run to the quarter-finals of the FA Youth Cup, scoring against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
On coming out, he said: “For a long time I’ve thought I would have to hide my truth because I wanted to be, and now I am, a professional footballer. I asked myself if I should wait until I’ve retired to come out. No other player in the professional game here is out.
“However, I knew that would lead to a long time of lying and not being able to be myself or lead the life that I want to.
“Since I’ve come out to my family, my club and my teammates, that period of overthinking everything and the stress it created has gone. It was impacting my mental health.
“Now I am just confident and happy to be myself finally.”
Daniels said he knew he was gay at around age five or six, and that he initially believed that football and being gay didn’t mix.
“So all the way through my life I was like, ‘It’s fine, you’ll get a girlfriend when you’re older and you’ll change and it’ll be fine’.”
“And as you do get older you realise you just can’t… and it’s just something you won’t be able to do.
“I’ve had girlfriends in the past to try and make all my mates think I’m straight, and it was just a massive cover-up. So it has been a struggle.”
Daniels said that hiding who he really was had an impact on his mental health as he dealt with “overthinking and stress”.
But he says now “it is all gone and I’m confident and happy to be myself, finally”.
Teammates have shown ‘amazing support’
The young footballer said he has received “amazing” support from his family, friends and Blackpool FC.
Daniels said that when he first told his teammates, they were “kind of shocked in a way”, and asked why he didn’t tell them earlier.
“The captain was one of the main people I told and he was just asking loads of questions about it and was like ‘I’m so proud of you’.”
He added: “Everyone has been so supportive and so proud of me and it just shows what a bond we have as a team and everyone is like a family to each other.”
Daniels said he first came out to his mother and sister, who he lives with.
He said: “Then we told my whole family and at this point I was quite scared because I didn’t know how the older generation might react.
“I needn’t have worried. I’ve had so many messages saying, ‘we are proud and we are supportive’. It’s been amazing. I couldn’t have wished for it to go better.
“The day after I told my mum and sister, we played Accrington [in an under-18s fixture] and I scored four goals, so it just shows how much of a weight off the shoulders and what a massive relief it was.”
The forward has had a whirlwind 12 months, admitting it’s been “a crazy year”.
“Everything has kind of happened at once but it feels right. I came into this year just like, ‘I need to prove myself, I need to smash it’… I think I have”.
Daniels is the first British male professional footballer to come out as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzelsperger also came out as gay after his retirement in 2013.
Meanwhile, Adelaide United player Josh Cavallo last year became the only openly gay professional top-flight men’s footballer in the world.
It’s a 17-year-old telling us who he is. That’s it. A pretty unremarkable thing.
It only stands out because football has failed to create an environment where it’s just a normal thing.
It’s hard to think of another sport where a young person coming out as gay would feel like a talking point.
Yet men’s football has lagged behind the women’s game – and so many other sports – when it comes to creating a truly welcoming and inclusive space.
Despite everything men’s football has done to improve itself there is a subculture that persists that means gay players have just not felt comfortable doing it.
There’s still a minority of fans who sing homophobic slurs when their side plays Brighton just as there’s a minority who will still make racist comments or mock poverty. Then there is the cesspit of social media abuse.
Jake Daniels says he wants to help make the game he loves a better more welcoming place and already feels liberated and massively supported. Good on him. Anyone who has a problem with his decision needs to have a long hard look at themselves.