• Former Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton player comes out
• I have never been ashamed of it, says former midfielder
• Thomas Hitzlsperger – a career in pictures
• 'Der Hammer' profile: never afraid of a challenge
Thomas Hitzlsperger has become the most high-profile footballer to come out, announcing on Wednesday that he is gay. The former Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton player has given a long interview to the German paper Die Zeit, in which he says that he is talking about his sexuality because he wants "to further the debate about homosexuality among sports professionals".
Hitzlsperger represented Germany 52 times, played in a World Cup and a European Championship and won the Bundesliga with Stuttgart. He retired in September last year, having also played for Lazio in Italy and Wolfsburg. "It's been a long and difficult process" [of becoming aware of being gay]. Only in the last few years have I realised that I preferred living together with a man," Hitzlsperger added.
"In England, Italy and Germany being a homosexual is no big thing, at least not in the dressing room," he said, before adding: "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.
"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'".
Last year, the former Leeds United player Robbie Rogers came out, telling the world about his sexuality in a statement on his website. Last month the British diver Tom Daley also announced that he has a boyfriend.