Empty bus at Brighton Pride to highlight the zero openly gay professional footballers

An empty bus will take part in Brighton Pride this weekend – to highlight the lack of openly gay footballers.

There are no openly gay footballers in the top tiers of the sport in the UK, and persistent reports suggest that major stars in the closet feel terrified to come out.

Paddy Power, which sponsors Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces campaign against homophobia in sport, is seeking to underline the problem at Brighton Pride.

The empty bus bears the slogan: “Official bus of gay professional footballers.”

Paddy Power’s Pride bus

Paul Mallon of Paddy Power said: “The world’s best-watched league should reflect the community around it – in the UK, one in 50 people consider themselves LGBT+.

“And yet, in the Premier League, not one player is openly gay. So we’re calling on the league to boot itself into 2018, and create a welcoming environment for its first gay player.

“We think an out gay Premier League footballer would have an extraordinary effect not just on the LGBT+ community, but society in general.

“They would spearhead profound change and, club colours aside, that’s something we support more than anything else.”

Paddy Power’s Pride bus

There are currently no openly gay players in the top tiers of English football.

The last player to come out while playing was Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 but died by suicide in 1998 after years of homophobic abuse.

Former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers and former Aston Villa player Thomas Hitzlsperger have both come out as gay in recent years, but only after retiring from English football.

David Haigh, Leeds United’s openly gay ex-Managing Director, previously said more than 20 gay footballers from both the Premier League and the Championship had approached him for advice.

He said: “There are many people, including players and agents, who approached me and 20 is a fair number in my view.

“I wanted a group to come out together. My figure on the number of gay players is probably a gross underestimate.

“That is from my experience. They are still playing, in the Premier League, and the Championship.”

Haigh explained that footballers were reluctant to come out publicly because “young stars advertise brands with sponsors, and being gay is still seen as a handicap.”

He added: “To be suddenly known for their sexuality would be unsettling.

“Football needs to have people come out. The first guy to do it would be brave, yes, but they would also get a lot of support.

“I don’t think gay footballers would face a terrible time today. I think that players who came out would receive support.

“I hope it would not be like Justin Fashanu. I think things have changed massively since then, so I would hope the reaction would not be the same today.”

He placed part of the blame for the lack of out gay players on agents, who he said “all [only] care about money.”

Former Premier League footballer Carl Hoefkens last year said two of his teammates were out as gay to the rest of the squad.

Hoefkens, a Belgium international who played for Stoke City and West Bromwich Albion in the mid-00s, said that “one of them would even arrive at training with his boyfriend.

“They asked us to keep quiet to the outside world, but don’t ask me why.”