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He is the first Premier League Manager prepared to talk on the record to a gay magazine about sexuality in football. And though he’s not yet found one, here’s the good news – AFC Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe is ready for a gay footballer…

The English Premier League – the self-styled “best league in the world” featuring just 20 elite football clubs – has the numbers to back up its position at the zenith of the UK’s national sport. Nearly 14 million people passed through the turnstiles in 2016.

But the numbers in football grounds are dwarfed by the Premier League’s global television audience. Across 225 broadcast territories watching 232,000 hours of coverage in 730 million homes sit three billion people. To give you some perspective, that total equates to as many as live in the three most populous nations on earth (China, India and the United States) combined.

And why not? It’s the beautiful game, alive with passion, tension and drama. The potential outcomes appear endless, the variables almost infinite, the results of any given game or season beyond guessing. Leicester City are the current Premier League Champions, for crying out loud. Anything can happen.

Well, almost anything.

Anything except the appearance of a gay player, anywhere. Not among nearly 900 footballers in the Premier League, nor indeed among the 4,000 members of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) that play across the top four divisions for 92 clubs in England and Wales, does there exist an openly-gay player.

Which, on the face of it, is surprising. With estimates suggesting anything between six and ten per cent of the population is on the ‘rainbow spectrum’ that should point to 50-90 Premier League performers and 240-400 players in the wider professional game. Instead, much as the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had it, “There are no homosexuals here.”

A ridiculous proposition, in any context, clearly. Not least since it’s an obvious truth that, in football as indeed in Iran, it’s likely there are gay people in abundance. They just prefer to stay hidden away, resigned to life in the closet. But who can blame a footballer for that? The game’s record in such things is more akin to a charge sheet than a roll of honour.

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