Arsenal’s Héctor Bellerín says football fans are ‘not ready’ for a gay player

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: Hector Bellerin of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on April 8, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Arsenal right back Héctor Bellerín has discussed the homophobic abuse he has received on the pitch, saying fans are “not ready” for a gay male footballer.

Bellerín, who also plays right defence for Spain, said he briefly quit Twitter and other forms of social media after being insulted online.

The sportsman is known for his love of fashion, as well as for discussing topics, like politics and the environment, which aren’t usually talked about by footballers.

Bellerín has 128 caps for Arsenal. (Clive Rose/Getty Images)

In an interview with The Times, he said: “Most of the abuse is online, but you hear it in the stadium too. People have called me ‘lesbian’ for growing my hair.

“There are other kinds of homophobic insults. I have learnt to grow a thick skin but it can affect you. Every now and again, you get a bit of self-doubt.”

Bellerín, who has played for Arsenal since 2013, also suggested that rugby fans are more progressive than football lovers, highlighting the positive response to former Wales captain Gareth Thomas coming out in 2009, when he became the first openly gay professional rugby union player.

“It is impossible that anybody could be openly gay in football,” he told the national paper.

“Some fans are not ready. When it happened in rugby with the Welsh player [Gareth Thomas], people respected the situation. The fans respected his decision. In football, the culture is different. It can be very personal, very nasty, particularly for players from the opposition team.”

There are still no openly gay footballers in top four divisions of men’s football in the UK, where homosexuality remains a taboo subject.

Liam Davis, who plays for Cleethorpes Town FC, a side in the Northern Premier League Division One, is openly gay.

Thomas Hitzlsperger became the only gay footballer to have played in the Premier League when he came out after his retirement in 2014.

Casey Stoney, Manager of Manchester United Women looks on prior to the FA WSL Continental Tyres Cup match between Manchester United and Reading at Leigh Sports Village on August 25, 2018 in Leigh, Greater Manchester. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

This contrasts with women’s football in Britain, where a number of player have come out while playing at the top level.

Lianne Sanderson, who currently plays for Juventus and nationally for England, is openly gay.

Former England captain Casey Stoney, who is now manager of Manchester United, publicly came out as a lesbian in 2014.

Her partner Megan Harris was previously captain for now-defunct club Lincoln Ladies, but quit football when she gave birth to the couple’s twins in 2014.