Gay footballer Thomas Beattie struggled to picture himself in the LGBT+ community before coming out

Former footballer Thomas Beattie

Gay ex-footballer Thomas Beattie has said he struggled with a lack of role models before coming out.

The English-born footballer played for clubs in Canada and across Singapore before retiring in 2015 after a head injury. In June this year, he became the first professional English footballer to come out as gay in three decades.

“I never thought about coming out while playing,” he told The Advocate. “I literally felt like I had to sacrifice one of the two: who I am, or the sport I loved before I could remember.”

In a new interview with The Sunday Times newspaper, Beattie reflected on the response he received.

He said: “It’s been really intense… honestly I’ve had thousands of people reach out to me who are in the same position, from the age of 15 to 80.”

“The negative messages I can count on one hand. I’ve had unbelievable support from football supporters, players I’ve played against, coaches.”

Thomas Beattie needed space outside of sport to figure his identity out.

Of the lack of role models in the sport, Thomas Beattie said: “There were not really people I could look at and say: ‘It’s been OK for him, I’m sure it will be OK for me.’

“I just didn’t grow up with enough examples that resonated. The only real understanding I had of the LGBT+ community was something I didn’t think represented me. So it was, that’s not me.”

Thomas Beattie

Thomas Beattie came out as gay in June. (Instagram)

He added of being a younger player in the closet: ““It was definitely not a conducive environment to self-analyse and to comprehend that you might be something that goes against 99 per cent of what you see around you.

“The pressure of being in the spotlight, of being in an environment that is under a magnifying glass, is daunting when you don’t really know who you are.

“I was, like, I need to figure this out but there is no way I can even start to open that up or allow myself to open that up while I’m in this space, mentally, emotionally, physically.”

There are no out players in English football.

The last English football players to come out prior to Beattie was Justin Fashanu, who came out in 1990 but was hounded with relentless homophobia before his death from suicide eight years later.

Two international players, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Robbie Rogers, have come out after playing in the top tiers of English football, but only after their retirement.