(FILE PHOTO) Retired German footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger has told German news outlet Zeit Online he is gay. READING, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 17: Thomas Hitzlsperger of Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Reading and Everton at Madejski Stadium on November 17, 2012 in Reading, England. (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

London – Thomas Hitzlsperger has admitted that other sports stars such as Tom Daley helped him find the courage to come out.

On Wednesday, former Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton midfielder Hitzlsperger became the first player who has appeared in the Premier League to reveal he is gay.

It follows Olympic bronze medal winner Daley, 19, telling the world last month that he was in a relationship with a man.

Hitzlsperger said: “It really helped me to see that other professional sports people were acknowledging their sexuality. I read about John Amaechi, Gareth Thomas and Tom Daley.

“They weren’t footballers but the fact that they went public gave me the feeling that I was not alone. They all said it was good for them. I began to think that I could help other footballers who might be in the same shoes.”

Hitzlsperger, capped 52 times by Germany, was in a relationship for eight years with Inga Totzauer, splitting up with her in June 2007 one month before they were due to get married. It was “only in the last few years” he realised that he was gay.

The 31-year-old waited until five months after retiring due to persistent injuries before making the announcement, but believes a current player will eventually feel comfortable enough to come out.

“I certainly think it’s possible and that it will happen one day,” he said. “In my case it took longer to realise that I’m gay and to admit it to myself.

“Young players these days when they’re sure about their feelings they can talk about it. Hopefully by talking about it the way I am now encourages others because they see they can still be professional footballers, they can play at the highest level and be gay.”

Hitzlsperger hopes his revelations will go some way to contradict what he believes are common misconceptions about homosexuals.

“They think in professional football you have to be strong, powerful, and they think being gay means you aren’t that, you’re the opposite; you’re soft, you don’t like to tackle, you’re very weak,” he added.

“I look at myself and people nicknamed me ‘Der Hammer’ because I have a powerful left foot, I’m a strong guy. So that’s a contradiction. Why do people think being gay also means you’re weak? I think I proved the opposite.”

Last year former Leeds winger Robbie Rodgers became the first person to play in England to come out. After moving to LA Galaxy, he made the revelation and claimed that English football is not ready for a player to be openly gay.

Hitzlsperger, who does not know a single gay footballer currently playing in Europe, claims he has come across derogatory comments in the game but does not believe we will know the full extent of homophobia in football until there are openly gay players.

“It’s difficult to say for me whether there’s an anti-gay atmosphere because so far there isn’t an openly gay footballer in a European league,” he said.

“It’s probably easier if you compare it to racism. With racism you know who people dislike, when they shout things at them it’s clearly visible.

“But gay footballers don’t exist officially. I’ve heard homophobic comments when I was playing, but I think it will be a different matter once people know who is gay and then we can judge it afterwards.” – Daily Mail