After Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed he was gay this week, Gainsborough Trinity winger Liam Davis hopes that coming out as a gay footballer will make others feel confident to do the same.
The 23-year-old was talking after news that former German international and Aston Villa star Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed he was gay following his retirement from the game.
Davis said, aside from himself, he is unaware of any other footballers currently playing who are gay, but hopes that more feel comfortable to follow in his footsteps before his own career is over.
“There is none that I know of,” said Davis. “I thought about it the other day, they believe that five percent of the population is gay, so if you halve that for gender, that means there is 2.5 per cent gay men.
“Now, with football played so much from the top level down to non-league, there has to be more than one, statistics say that. So what that says to me there must be some who are not comfortable to come out.
“At the age of 23 I like to think that I’ve got a good number of years left in the game and a lot of time to make a stand.
“I personally hope that over the next 10 years I’m not the only gay footballer out there. Nobody wants to be forced out, but I hope they can look and see there is someone out there who has done it.
“I hope we can get to a stage where it is not a bad thing, that there is no problem and people just get on with it.”
Davis has always been able to count on the support of friends and family since coming out in 2009.
However, he admitted that not since joining Trinity last summer has he been able to talk fully about being a gay footballer.
“I came out to my family and friends first. I did not even think about football. I didn’t think about hiding it though, because there is nothing to hide,” said Davis.
“Coming out was the right thing for me to do. If people didn’t accept it, then I would deal with it. You know you would get support from your family and friends, because that is human nature.
“I was at Selby at the time I came out, playing very low down in the football league pyramid. I did not bring it up. Nobody sat down and spoke about it, nobody bothered with it, or took an interest in it.
“After Selby I moved to Brigg. There was a lot more banter in the dressing room there. The lads knew and there were jokes, but at no point did it cross the line.
“There was nothing malicious ever said and it was a good place as there was a few of my old youth team mates from Grimsby there who knew me.
“I joined Gainsborough in the summer and I kept myself to myself. It was on a team night out in Sheffield that the question was asked.
“The goalkeeper Phil Barnes brought it up with me at the bar. I don’t know if it was a bit of Dutch courage that made me talk about it, but I think the way Phil asked helped as well. He did it in a jokey way which broke the ice and that was good.
“I didn’t know if people knew. I had intended to just get on with playing football. There had been questions like, ‘have you got a girlfriend’, and I’d just say ‘no’, because it was the truth, so I had a suspicion that they might have an idea. Then it turned out they all knew from the first day I was at training.
“That is the one thing I will say I really enjoy about playing for Gainsborough, is that it is a very close knit group of lads.
“Some of them have known each other for years and the others that come in are made to feel welcome, nobody is made to feel an outcast.”
Liam Davis talks about his move to Gainsborough Trinity
Davis career started in the youth ranks at Grimsby Town. From the age of 14 he was wrapped up in the football bubble and for four years it was his life.
And while even back then he knew he was gay, he said at the time it would have been difficult to discuss it.
“I started to get an idea when I was about 13 to 15. I understood there was something different about me, but nothing came of it until I was about 18.
“I joined Grimsby when I was 14 and was there until I was 18. It was my life. As a group we would train together then afterwards in groups of about four or five we would go out together in the evening.
“I wouldn’t have come out then. It was a situation when you have young people around you and their knowledge and experience is not as broad as others.
“When I was in the youth team at Grimsby, football is your life and you doing everything together. You train together then you will be out socially. But at a part time club, football is only part of it, you have a whole life outside of it.
“I went to other clubs and it has not been an issue, but it’s only since joining Gainsborough that I’ve had proper discussions about my sexuality, but it’s because they are interested in my life.
“None of it has been in an intrusive way, but with a good interest, becasue they care how you are getting on and to try and understand me a bit better.”
Davis believes because his teammates have a life outside of the game they are more understanding.
And it is Davis own work outside of football which makes him want to fight harder for greater equality in the sport.
The Grimsby-born lad currently co-owns with his partner Neil, the Point Café and Bar in Cleethopres.
Davis works the tables at the front, while Neil does the cooking and he feels that as his sexuality is never an issue to his customers, that it should not be the same in sport.
“My partner and I work in the same place and it will probably come across that we are a couple,” said Davis.
“But people do not walk out of our restaurant because of that. They come in for some good food and good service.
“It should be the same in football. I should be able to picked, or not picked, on merit, not because of my sexuality. You are there to play and do a good job for your team.”
Other sportsmen and women have come out or been open about their sexuality in recent years.
Olympic diver Tom Daley recently announced he was in a relationship with another man, while England women’s hockey captain Kate Walsh married her teammate Helen Richardson last September.
And this week Hitzlsperger hit the headlines by coming out.
Davis respects that Hitzlsperger has come out, but admitted he wished he did so while he was playing and he worries that it will be a long time before a professional at the top level reveals his sexuality.
“It would have been great if he had come out while he was still playing, then someone would have set the precedent,” said Davis.
“Until someone does, then everybody has to be in the closet. If he had done it, then a lot more would have followed.
“You have to respect, though, what he said about doing it at the right time for him. If he feels that his career is at an end and he’s okay now.
“Personally, I’m happy being out and proud of it. I don’t see why I should hide who I am.
“I think further up the football pyramid the harder it will be for a gay footballer to come out. There is the scale of the situation to consider, such as the number of fans in a ground and the amount of media that cover the football.
“I’m also worried the agents might be fearful of one of their players coming out. If a player has come out to his family and friends and his agent, could that agent warn against him going public for fear of the damage to his image and potential loss of earnings?
“At the lower level people are not completely wrapped up in it. I hope what I have done makes people feel more comfortable about coming out and that it can be more accepted in the game, and hopefully that will move up to the higher levels.
“I think that it is great that others sports are setting the precedent. The one that strikes me is the rugby player Gareth Thomas.
“He came out while still playing and to do so in a very macho sport like rugby. In rugby there is a lot of physical contact, certainly a lot more than football, so why can’t footballers feel okay to talk about it?”
Homophobic abuse is often seen as another reason for players to keep their sexuality hidden.
Davis has received abuse only once in the past, and he was encouraged by the fact the player in question did apologise soon afterwards.
“I’ve only had one incident and that was a few weeks ago. It was two comments off one player.,” said Davis.
“I didn’t react at the time it happened on the pitch, but I spoke about it afterwards. He managed to get hold of my number and sent me a text message to apologise.
“He said it was not done out of hatred and that it shouldn’t have been said. I’d like to think that he came to that conclusion himself and was not told to apologise.
“If I had taken action then it would have been a different situation. I know that player would not liked to have faced the prospect of being forced to serve a ban for homosexual abuse, it could have done a lot of damage to him not just in football, but also outside of it.”
Crucially for Davis, the support he received from friends and supporters after the incident that made him convinced that being a gay footballer in 2014 is not a problem.
And he hopes that the treatment he has received can help others open up about their sexuality.
“I wouldn’t be talking about this if it was not for all the support I have got from my friends, family and my partner. Crucially if it was not for the great support I’ve had from past teammates and my current club,” said Davis.
“Gainsborough have been brilliant and the way they have treated me has really given me the confidence to talk more about this and feel comfortable playing my football.
“I think that the support I have received hopefully shows that most clubs will be the same.
“Gainsborough is a good club, but they are not any different to a lot of teams in how they look after their players.
“I don’t think many changing rooms would make outcast of team mates. I think it is becoming more socially acceptable.”