Sport

Freddie Ljungberg on why the Premier League is still yet to have an openly gay player

A staggering 72 per cent of football fans have heard homophobic abuse shouted from the stands of English clubs in the last five years. 

One in five 18 to 24-year-olds say they'd be embarrassed if their favourite player came out.

Young people are twice as likely to say anti-LGBT language is harmless if it's just meant as ‘banter’.

These are the headline findings of a recent survey of English football carried out by LGBT charity Stonewall - a renewal of the damning fact that in 2016, the Premier League is still yet to have an openly LGBT player in its ranks. But why?

It's a subject that Freddie Ljungberg is readily familiar with. During his career at Arsenal, rumours abounded regarding his sexuality, leading many to speculate he could be the first openly gay Premier League player. But he wasn't. We spoke to the Arsenal legend about his thoughts on the subject and Stonewall's report.

"Yes, I had a little rumour about being gay when I was younger, when I was playing. I got it often from the stands and stuff like that. That was just a fact.

"For me I saw it as, 'If you want to sing that, it shows that I'm a great player, you're trying to unbalance me'."

"Of course that exists, it's just a fact... I'm not really surprised by it."

As to why the Premier League is still yet to witness that historic, overdue moment?

"I don't actually know. Of course, it may be some psychological stuff - people are scared to say, something like that - the response of maybe family and friends and all that kind of stuff. I think it plays into your decision maybe, when you come out. 

"But if you look at the percentage [of gay men] in society, you would probably say percentage wise there should be a few in the Premiership - given the number of players, if I'm correct, if I know my maths. Time will tell, we'll see what happens. 

 "For me personally, why I love - for example - living in London is because London is a special place where everyone is accepted as equal. I hope that is the same as in the world of football."

The Stonewall report would suggest that the future of homosexuality in football isn't as bleak as the present: of those surveyed, nine in ten people would be either ‘proud’ or ‘neutral’ if their favourite player came out as gay. To find out more about the work of Stonewall, you can visit their page here.

Just as Ljungberg says, we look forward to the day when every player is accepted as an equal in the world of football - regardless of their sexuality. 

Freddie Ljungberg was speaking at the TAG Heuer Premier League Pressure Test. TAG Heuer is the first ever Official Timekeeper and Official Watch of the Premier League. www.tagheuerpressuretest.com

(Images: Rex)