Blackpool forward Jake Daniels has become the first male professional footballer in the UK to come out as gay for 30 years.
Daniels, who recently broke into Blackpool’s first team and signed his first professional contract after a stellar season of goalscoring for the youth team, said in a statement: “I’ve known my whole life that I’m gay, and I now feel that I’m ready to come out and be myself.”
The 17-year-old is the first male professional player to come out since Justin Fashanu did so in 1990. Fashanu, who took his own life in 1998, faced a fierce backlash from football fans, and the fear of homophobic abuse has been a key reason for the lack of players following suit in subsequent years.
“I have been thinking for a long time about how I want to do it, when I want to do it,” Daniels told Sky Sports. “I know now is the time. I am ready to be myself, be free and be confident with it all.”
Daniels said he had been “living a lie” and that telling family, friends and teammates had been a weight off his shoulders.
“I was probably five or six years old when I knew I was gay. It that age you don’t really think that football and being gay doesn’t mix. You just think, one day, when I’m older I’ll get a girlfriend and I will change and it will be fine. But as you get older you realise you can’t just change. It doesn’t work like that.
“I did have girlfriends in the past, to try and make all my mates think I was straight, but it was just a massive cover-up. In school people even used to ask me: ‘Are you sure you aren’t gay?’ And I would reply, ‘no, I’m not’. I wasn’t ready and it was a struggle but I just don’t want to lie any more.
“For a long time I’ve thought I would have to hide my truth because I wanted to be, and now I am, a professional footballer. I asked myself if I should wait until I’ve retired to come out. No other player in the professional game here is out. However, I knew that would lead to a long time of lying and not being able to be myself or lead the life that I want to.”
As the only active male player in the English professional game to be openly gay, Daniels hopes he can inspire others to follow in his footsteps.
The Professional Footballers’ Association said: “We are extremely proud of Jake and have been working with him and his club. He has the complete support of everyone at the PFA.”