Arsenal full-back Hector Bellerin says he has been inundated with personal abuse for daring to be different.
The fashion-loving Spaniard arrived in England in 2011 from Barcelona and signed a professional contract two years later and has since become a regular for the Gunners.
The 23-year-old has told The Times about his battle with abuse and says after he grew his hair long he was called “lesbian”.
“It can get very abusive,” Bellerin said. “Most of the abuse is online, but you hear it in the stadium too. People have called me ‘lesbian’ for growing my hair.
“There are other kinds of homophobic insults. I have learnt to grow a thick skin but it can affect you. Every now again you get a bit of self-doubt.
“The problem is that people have an idea of what a footballer should look like, how they should behave, what they should talk about.
“If you act a little differently you become a target. There is pressure to conform. This is very dangerous. In life, you should be allowed to express yourself. People are happier like this.”
Bellerin was asked why there are not any openly gay footballers at present.
“It’s impossible that anybody could be openly gay in football. Some fans are not ready. When it happened in rugby with the Welsh player (Gareth Thomas), people respected the situation,” added Bellerin.
“The fans respected his decision. In football, the culture is different. It can be very personal, very nasty, particularly for players from the opposition team.
“People should be able to express themselves without feeling threatened. That is true in football, but also in life.
“I don’t know why people are so angry when someone wants to be a bit different. So long as nobody is being harmed, what’s the problem?”