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Graeme Le Saux's support for Thomas Hitzlsperger

Retired German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger has told German news outlet Zeit Online he is gay]
Retired German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger has told German news outlet Zeit Online he is gay]

By Martyn Ziegler

Graeme Le Saux, the former England defender appointed to the Football Association's new equality panel, has welcomed Thomas Hitzlsperger's decision to reveal he is gay but insists there should be no pressure on footballers to come out while they are still playing.

Le Saux, a member of the FA's new Inclusion Advisory Board (IAB), had his life made a misery by abuse from players and fans during the 1990s even though he is not gay.

Hitzlsperger, the former Germany midfielder who played for Aston Villa, Everton and West Ham, waited until he had retired before making his announcement and Le Saux said that should be respected.

He told Press Association Sport: "Things have changed dramatically since I was playing, football is much more open-minded and international.

"Thomas didn't feel it was right and I respect that, and I don't think we should expect players to be that open if they think it is going to put undue pressure on them.

"What would be a shame is if there was a young gay man who was a talented footballer who turned his back on the sport because he thinks football won't accept him."

Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler has recently apologised to Le Saux for an infamous incident in 1997, but other players named by Le Saux in his 2007 autobiography have not followed suit.

Le Saux added: "I have had contact with Robbie Fowler who has had time to reflect and who made an effort to contact me and apologise.

"I would always accept an apology and then move on.

"All of us make mistakes in life, as I have, and it's important we take responsibility for this."

Le Saux believes he was subjected to bullying from other players and staff after joining Chelsea because he was "different" - he came from Jersey, "dressed like a student and read The Guardian newspaper".

Hitzlsperger believes gay male footballers are living in fear of the repercussions they could face if they come out.

There are many openly gay players in the women's game, including England captain Casey Stoney, but none active at a high level in men's football.

Hitzlsperger wrote on his website: "Homosexuality is simply ignored in football.

"The media, on the other hand, have been interested in the subject for years. It's just that the players concerned have not dared to declare their inclinations because the world of football still sees itself to some extent as a macho environment."

Premier League managers have praised Hitzlsperger's decision.

Sunderland boss Gus Poyet said: "I am really proud of him coming out and saying it. I think society has changed a lot, and that will help a few players to come out and I think it will happen more and more often, so credit to him."

Hull manager Steve Bruce added: "It's very, very brave of him. It mustn't have been easy to make that decision.

"I'm sure there are gay footballers, same as there are gay barmen or gay actors. Fair play to the lad, he's come out and been as honest has he can be."

Crystal Palace boss Tony Pulis said: "If people do come out they'll be protected and they'll be respected. I think that's the great thing about this country.

"The greatest thing about our society is that we are an open society.

"We welcome everything, every extreme, every different avenue. We're not a country that is subversive in any way, shape or form.

"Whether it's colour, creed, religion, whatever, I think this is the greatest country in the world for that."

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