Thomas Hitzlsperger
and other players from the German International Football Team arriving at their Hotel.

Featuring: Thomas Hitzlsperger
Where: Cologne, Germany
When: 31 Aug 2009
Credit: WENN

Footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger reveals he is gay

Thomas HitzlspergerRetired German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger has revealed that he is gay. The star - who played for Aston Villa, Everton and West Ham United during his time in the Premier League - said that he decided to come out "to further the debate about homosexuality among sports professionals". The 31-year-old's announcement comes just four months after he announced his decision to retire from the sport. "I'm coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards," he told German newspaper Die Zeit. He added: "It's been a long and difficult process. Only in the last few years have I realised that I preferred living together with a man. In England, Italy and Germany being a homosexual is no big thing, at least not in the dressing room. "I was never ashamed of being who I am but it was not always easy to sit on a table with 20 young men and listen to jokes about gays. You let them get on with it as long as the jokes are somewhat funny and not too insulting." Hitzlsperger won 52 international caps during his career, and represented Germany in World Cup and European Championship tournaments. He added that homosexuality in football is not "a serious topic in the changing room". "Being gay is topic that is 'ignored' in football and not 'a serious topic in the changing room'. Fighting spirit, passion and winning mentality are intrinsically linked, that doesn't fit the cliché: 'Gays are soft'." Sports personalities including Gary Lineker and Joey Barton have taken to Twitter to praise the star for having the courage to speak about his sexuality. Lineker posted: "Congratulations to Thomas Hitzlsperger on bravely being the first player to have played in the PL to 'come out'." Barton added: "Thomas Hitzlsperger has shown a lot of courage today. Sad times when people have to wait till they retire from their chosen profession..." Thomas Hitzlsperger will be interviewed by Gary Lineker on this Saturday's (January 11) Football Focus at 12 noon on BBC One.