Cavallo inspires the UK’s first gay footballer

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Blackpool’s teenage striker Jake Daniels has become the first active male footballer in England to come out as gay.

The 17-year-old said he was inspired by the example of Adelaide United midfielder Josh Cavallo, who was released last year.

Cavallo, 22, is the only openly gay man currently playing in a top division of world football.

(Photo by Jonathan DiMaggio/Getty Images)

“I’ve hated lying all my life and felt the need to change to fit in,” Daniels said.

“I want to be a role model myself by doing this. There are people in the same space as me who may not feel comfortable revealing their sexuality.

“I just want to tell them that you don’t have to change who you are, or how you should be, just to fit in. Being yourself and being happy is what matters most.”

Daniels said his Blackpool teammates embraced his sexuality after he confided in them. The third-tier club said they are “incredibly proud that they have reached a stage where they are empowered to express themselves both on and off the pitch”.

The Football Association said Daniels was an “inspiration” to the sport.

“This is an extremely positive step as we strive to create an inclusive game that we can all be proud of,” the governing body tweeted.

“We are with you and hope your story helps give people through the game the strength and encouragement to be themselves.”

“This season has been fantastic for me on the court,” Daniels said in a statement.

“But off the pitch, I hid the real me and who I really am. I’ve known my whole life that I was gay, and now I feel like I’m ready to come out and be myself.

“It’s a step into the unknown but I was inspired by Josh Cavallo, [England non-league player] Matt Morton and athletes from other sports, such as [diver] Tom Daley, for having the courage and determination to drive change.

The only openly gay man to ever play as a full-time professional in England was Justin Fashanu, although he was not playing in the League when he made the announcement in 1990, later relaunching his career at Torquay .

The former Nottingham Forest and Norwich City striker has died aged 37.

More recently, Germany’s Thomas Hitzlsperger, who had played at Aston Villa, and American Robbie Rogers, who played for Leeds, have exited after quitting the English game.

Daniels said he had been thinking about how to tell his story for a long time and that living a lie was affecting his mental health.

“For a long time I thought I should hide my truth because I wanted to be, and now I am, a professional footballer. I wondered if I should wait until I retired to come out.

“However, I knew it would lead to a long period of lying and not being able to be myself or lead the life I want.”

Daniels said his mother and sister reacted by saying “yes, we already knew that” and he received many messages of support.

“The day after I told my mum and sister about it, we played Accrington (under 18) and I scored four goals, so it shows what a weight on your shoulders and what huge relief it was,” he added.

© AAP

Rebecca R. Santistevan