The West Ham and England footballer Matt Jarvis has posed for the cover of Britain's best-selling gay magazine in an attempt to crush one of the game's last remaining stigmas.
The married winger is only the third footballer to appear on the cover of Attitude in its 19-year history. David Beckham, who appeared in 2002, and Freddie Ljungberg who followed four years later, led the way.
Jarvis, 26, told Attitude that homosexuality was now "everyday life" and not "something that's going to be a shock". He added: "I'm sure there are many footballers who are gay, but when they decide to actually come out and say it, it is a different story. It's one that I'm sure they've thought about many times. But it's a hard thing for them to do," he said.
That view is vindicated by a recent study by the University of Staffordshire, that suggested the majority of fans would welcome players coming out, with 40 per cent of fans blaming clubs and agents for keeping gay footballers in the closet.
Jarvis said that times have changed and it is more likely that an openly gay footballer would receive the support he needed now. "There'd be support everywhere within the football community, whether it be players, fans or within the PFA [Professional Footballers' Association]. There would definitely be groups of people who would be supportive and help them through it," he said.
Previous case histories tell a different story. In 1990 Justin Fashanu – the first black £1m footballer, who played for Norwich, Nottingham Forest and Hearts – suffered extended abuse after coming out. He killed himself eight years later. The prejudices he faced were cited at the inquest into his death. The most high-profile footballer to come out since then is Anton Hysen a player in the Swedish lower leagues.
In the interview Jarvis agreed that not coming out could hamper performance in a sport that has traditionally considered homosexuality as a forbidden frontier. He said: "You've always got something you're worried about at the back of your mind. If you can let that go and then just concentrate on your one goal, which is whichever sport you're doing to the best of your ability, I think that would help. Definitely."
It is part of a wider attempt to tackle prejudice to homosexuality in football. Last month the Spanish midfielder Suso, who plays for Liverpool, was fined £10,000 for calling his team-mate José Enrique "gay" on Twitter and warned about his future conduct by the Football Association.
Previously, former Sheffield Wednesday captain Darren Purse said he would have to think hard before advising a young player to come out; Bayern Munich's German striker Mario Gomez made headlines when he did the opposite, urging gay players to break this last "taboo".
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies