Jake Daniels’ decision to come out as gay was hailed as an “historic day” for English football, with England captain Harry Kane among those to pay tribute to the 17-year-old.
The Blackpool forward released a statement via his club on Monday afternoon, making him the only openly gay male professional footballer currently active in Britain.
Daniels’ move received widespread praise, with players, clubs and organisations from across the country and beyond saluting his courage.
Tony Burnett, the chief executive of the game’s anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out, said it was now vital Daniels was given the correct support.
“The bravery Jake has shown today will hopefully go some way to showing that men’s football is becoming an environment in which LGBTQ+ people feel welcome and comfortable to be their authentic selves,” Burnett said.
“We now have a renewed responsibility to him and the LGBTQ+ community at large to work with all clubs and stakeholders to ensure that he receives the right support now, and that the infrastructure is in place to ensure that he can continue on his footballing journey like any other 17-year-old.
“This is a big story, and an historic day in English football, but we need to remember that there is a young man at the heart of it. A young man who should not have to be defined by this one moment, or this one part of his identity.
“We wish Jake a long and successful career in football. He has our full and unwavering support.”
Tottenham striker Kane paid tribute to Daniels on Twitter.
He wrote: “Massive credit to you @Jake_Daniels11 and the way your friends, family, club, and captain have supported you. Football should be welcoming for everyone.”
Liz Ward, the director of programmes at LGBTQ+ rights charity Stonewall, said the sport was “ready for this moment”.
She added: “We are moving towards a world where players can live openly as their true selves, both on and off pitch – and that is something we can all take pride in.
“Stonewall is proud to provide ongoing support to Jake, his close network and Blackpool FC to navigate the challenges of coming out in the public eye. This is an opportunity for everyone involved in football – from the players to the fans in the stands – to support Jake and show that football is everybody’s game.”
Former Aston Villa midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out as gay shortly after his retirement, wished Daniels a wonderful career and said he was glad to see he had the support of his club and Stonewall to make the announcement possible.
The Football Association said Daniels was “an inspiration to us all” and added: “We fully support your decision to be open about this part of yourself. Football is a game for all, with diversity at its heart, and this is a hugely positive step as we strive to build an inclusive game that we can all be proud of.
“We are with you and we hope your story will help to give people across the game the strength and encouragement to be their true self.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted: “Thank you for your bravery Jake, it would have taken huge courage to come out and you will be an inspiration to many both on and off the pitch.”
Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Neville also highlighted Daniels’ “incredible courage”, saying on Sky Sports: “I can’t imagine how difficult that has been.
“All I would say is it’s a day of great importance for Jake and his family, but also for English football. It will go down in history. It is a big, big moment for football.”
Match of the Day presenter and ex-England striker Gary Lineker tweeted: “Well played, @Jake_Daniels11. It’s been a brilliant season for you on the pitch, and now through your bravery, off the pitch too. I’m sure you’ll receive huge love and support from the football community and many others will follow your path. Good luck to you.”
Daniels is the first Briton in the men’s professional game to come out publicly as gay since Justin Fashanu in 1990.
Amal Fashanu, founder of The Justin Fashanu Foundation, hailed Daniels’ “immense bravery” and hopes his announcement will prove a turning point for players.
She said: “If my Uncle Justin were alive I know he would have been one of the first people to have contacted Jake to offer his support and best wishes. Justin’s wish was to create a society where people could simply be kinder to one another and where bigotry doesn’t exist.
“Jake’s announcement will come as a huge comfort to the many footballers at all levels of the game – from grass roots to the professional leagues – still secretly living as gay and who still feel unable to come out.
“I truly hope this announcement marks a turning point and that other footballers, who wish to do so, feel they can talk more openly about the life they lead off the field.
“The sad reality is there is still a lot of homophobia in the game, at all levels. Until the authorities take firm and more decisive action I am concerned many players will continue to live in secret, wrongly believing they have something to be ashamed of.
“Homophobia in the game needs to be treated with the zero tolerance approach racism rightly receives. Only then may we see more players, like Jake, willing to step out of the shadows – and live the life they truly wish to.”