Ex-England star Sol Campbell: Puma wanted me to be a gay footballer

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Sol Campbell has revealed sports clothing giant Puma were tempted to sign the former England international on the incorrect assumption about his sexuality.

The former Tottenham and Arsenal defender was the subject of widespread rumours and taunts throughout his playing career – often of a homophobic and racist nature.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the rumours about his sexual orientation started simply because he did not bring girlfriends along to matches.

Referencing his new autobiography, Campbell spoke of how he once met with Puma to strike up a sponsorship deal, but was stunned when the first question they asked was: “Are you gay?”

Campbell replied: “I’m not”, adding that the lunch then came to an immediate end.

He said: “They wanted an edge, they actually said ‘shame’ (you are not gay).”

The 39-year-old said he was told of how Puma wanted to sign the “first gay footballer”.

Clarke Carlisle, the former chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), said in September 2012 that the first English footballer to reveal that he is gay can expect to receive a commercial windfall from doing so.

Others, such as PR guru Max Clifford, have taken a less encouraging stance.

Clifford told PinkNews.co.uk in August 2009 that if a gay footballer came out it would “ruin their career” and destroy lucrative sponsorship opportunities.

“I don’t think the system is ready for (players to come out),” Campbell told BBC Radio 5 Live in a subsequent interview.

“I don’t think football is ready. Thomas Hitzlsperger, who recently came out as gay, is retired and in a different country.

“He chose to say it now. He is not playing every week and going to stadiums – sometimes fans can be really vile.”

Campbell said he believed the abuse he received was down to ignorance.

“Football is such a bubble and if you do not fit into that bubble there will always be people saying things,” he said.

“I was very shy as a boy, I didn’t want to tell people what I was doing. Most clubs are gossip pits, as I call it, and I just wanted to concentrate on football.

“It is just bizarre. It really is. One minute you move from Tottenham to Arsenal and the next minute people are singing things on the terraces.

“It is quite scary that people take as gospel what is said on the terraces.”

There are currently no known openly gay footballers in the English and Scottish professional leagues.

Retired Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger announced he was gay in January.

Former Leeds and US winger Robbie Rogers came out as gay and quit English football in February 2013.

He later reversed his decision to quit the game and signed for LA Galaxy – but as of yet Rogers has no plans to return to the English league.

Before Rogers’ revelation, only two footballers had publicly said they were gay.

Justin Fashanu was the first professional footballer in Britain to come out and continue playing in 1990, before he took his own life eight years later, aged 37.

Anton Hysen – son of former Liverpool defender Glenn Hysen – came out in an interview with a Swedish football magazine in 2011.

Hysen signed for US soccer team Myrtle Beach Mutiny last weekend.