Saturday, January 11, 2014, 00:01 by Martyn Ziegler
Thomas Hitzlsperger in action for Germany.
Graeme Le Saux, the former England defender appointed to the En-glish FA’s new equality panel, has welcomed Thomas Hitzlsperger’s decision to reveal he is gay but insists there should be no pressure on footballers to come out while they are still playing.
Le Saux, a member of the FA’s new Inclusion Advisory Board (IAB), had his life made a misery by abuse from players and fans during the 1990s even though he is not gay.
Hitzlsperger, the former Germany midfielder who played for Aston Villa, Everton and West Ham, waited until he had retired before making his announcement and Le Saux said that should be respected.
“Things have changed dramatically since I was playing. Football is much more open-minded and international,” Le Saux said.
“Thomas didn’t feel it was right and I respect that, and I don’t think we should expect players to be that open if they think it is going to put undue pressure on them.
“What would be a shame is if there was a young gay man who was a talented footballer but turned his back on the sport because he thinks football won’t accept him.”
Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler has recently apologised to Le Saux for an infamous incident in 1997, but other players named by Le Saux in his 2007 autobiography have not followed suit.
Le Saux added: “I have had contact with Robbie Fowler who has had time to reflect and who made an effort to contact me.
“I would always accept an apology and then move on. All of us make mistakes in life, as I have, and it’s important we take responsibility for this.”
Le Saux believes he was subjected to bullying from other players and staff after joining Chelsea because he was “different” – he came from Jersey, “dressed like a student and read The Guardian newspaper”.
Hitzlsperger believes gay male footballers are living in fear of the repercussions they could face if they come out.
There are many openly gay players in the women’s game, including England captain Casey Stoney, but none active at a high level in men’s football.
Hitzlsperger wrote on his website: “Homosexuality is simply ignored in football.
“The media, on the other hand, have been interested in the subject for years.
“It’s just that the players concerned have not dared to declare their inclinations because the world of football still sees itself to some extent as a macho environment.”