“Football has changed that much over the years. Football is ready for this in the game.”
Jake Daniels’ announcement on Monday that he is gay has been a long time coming. Not just at Blackpool – the 17-year-old striker’s club where they had been working towards this day all season – but in British football, where it has been more than 30 years since the last time an active male professional footballer came out.
In his interview with Sky Sports, Daniels said he felt “now is the right time” – and those words are echoed by Blackpool’s academy director Ciaran Donnelly.
“Whether there’s reaction out of the game that might be different we’ll wait and see, but in the game, we’re ready,” he said.
He said the reaction of Daniels’ team-mates at the Championship club was “really impressive”, making for the ideal environment in which the player could be himself.
“We tried not to let it be a really formal process, we wanted Jake to be in control. He drip-fed it in to the captain, one or two of his closer mates within the squad, and the information worked its way out to the rest of the team,” Donnelly told BBC Radio Lancashire.
“I think it’s a mark that it stayed in our environment, it could have become a big story out of our control.
“But the respect and the love for Jake within the group made for a really nice group of people and it was the perfect environment for Jake to do this.”
The reaction to Daniels’ announcement has been hugely positive, with the likes of England captain Harry Kane, Gary Lineker and Prime Minister Boris Johnson all sending messages of support.
“I called Jake last night just to see how he was and I think we’re all taken aback by just how big the response has been,” said Donnelly on Tuesday.
“It’s hard to prepare because it’s unchartered waters and you don’t know what you’re going into, but to see the overwhelming positivity coming through, the profile of the people who are writing comments – I saw Harry Kane write one last night and thought ‘wow, what a great thing’ – the reaction has been unbelievable.
“I’m so pleased that it’s like that for Jake, we’ll see how that goes over the coming days and weeks, but initially, what an amazing thing for him to have done and he will be feeling like it’s a massive weight off his shoulders.
“The positivity coming his way is going to make him feel on top of the world I’m sure.”
‘Mature beyond his years’
Daniels made his first-team debut in early May but has been at Blackpool since the age of seven.
Donnelly said his journey at the club’s academy had its typical “ups and downs”, but that Daniels has impressed with his maturity – as he has done the world over the past 24 hours.
“He had a period out of the academy when he decided he didn’t want to play football for a short while, and then came back,” said Donnelly.
“Certainly this last 18 months he’s really kicked on and really done well with his football.
“As a person, he’s got a lovely family around him, nice people, his mum and dad are lovely.
“Jake’s a great lad, he’s really mature, mature beyond his years. I’m sure people who have seen his interview will see how well he speaks for a 17-year-old, and he’s just a genuinely nice lad.
“To get to this point, he’s shown immense maturity, and we’re just really glad that we’ve been able to be a part of that and that he’s trusted us with that.
“It’s not been easy for Jake being able to articulate that to us and then ultimately feel comfortable enough to actually say the words and be honest and open.
“It’s been over the course of this season, and Jake’s always been conscious that it never affects his football, football is what he wants to do and that’s ultimately what he’s at Blackpool to do.
“In the background, the work that Will Cowell has done as our welfare officer and the connection that he’s had with Jake, and then bringing everyone into the fold, talking with his mum and his dad and Jake, it’s just been a really heart-warming process, to see a lad gain that confidence and have that belief to go and do what he’s done.
“He’s just one of us, just one of the boys, and that won’t change.”