The players of lower league club Sheppey United burst into a rousing round of applause for a teammate after he came out as bisexual last week.

Defender Jahmal Howlett-Mundle gathered fellow players and club staff at the side of the pitch for a heart-to-heart conversation about his sexuality.

Howlett-Mundle acknowledged the "stigma" around sexuality in football when speaking to his teammates before coming out as bisexual.

The player's announcement was backed by the Sheppey United media team who published a statement in which Howlett-Mundle said he would "be a better version of the Jahmal you already know" going forward.

The 24-year-old's decision to speak openly about his sexuality marks another step forward in the fight against homophobia in football.

The defender was applauded by teammates (

Image:

Sheppey United FC / SWNS)

Howlett-Mundle came out publicly on Tuesday evening and spoke to the club again on Saturday to reflect on the past week.

He said: "I waited a really long time. I spoke to the gaffer before I joined to let them know about my sexuality but I wanted to tell the team straight away and be comfortable in myself.

"I wasn't sure what the reaction was going to be like but I wanted to speak to the boys and management after we came back from lockdown.

"I decided not to and that I wasn't ready but I thought I couldn't go into another season not being myself, not being open, and the love the boys have shown me beforehand and since has been amazing."

The Sheppey United player hopes to inspire other LGBTQ+ footballers (

Image:

Paul Richards / Sheppey United / SWNS)

The player admitted he was "really nervous" before making the announcement and has been "overwhelmed" with positive messages since.

He said: "I'm not usually a nervous person. I was shaking a little because it was something I've wanted to do for a really long time.

"I felt safe for the first time ever in a football environment and that I could start to be myself.

"I'm so happy I've done it as now it's off my chest. I don't have to think about how I am in the dressing room, how I am in preparation."

Thomas Hitzlsperger is one of a small number of players who have come out

When he came out earlier this week Howlett-Mundle cited other LGBTQ+ footballers Thomas Hitzlsperger and Thomas Beattie as role models that helped him find the courage to speak about his sexuality.

Hitzlsperger played for clubs including Everton and West Ham United and came out as gay in 2014, having retired from the sport in 2013.

Beattie turned out for clubs across the United States and Singapore in his professional career before coming out as gay in 2020.

Despite those big names coming out after their careers, no active professional players have come out since Justin Fashanu in 1990 with homophobia still rife in the sport.

Recent studies from Out on the Fields (2015) and OutSport (2019) found that 80 per cent of participants had witnessed homophobia in sport and 78 per cent believed an openly gay person 'would not be very safe as a spectator at a sporting event'.

More figures from the lower leagues of the game are speaking out, just like the Sheppey United star.

Liam Davis came out as gay in 2014 when playing for Gainsborough Trinity and current Ashford Town manager Luke Tuffs has also come out as gay.

The club interviewer asked Howlett-Mundle for any advice he would give to other players in a similar situation.

The player said: "I know how hard it was for myself. I encourage anyone who feels the same way I do to speak to their loved ones.

"They will always support you and if they don't then, as difficult as it may be, at least you know where you stand.

"In this day and age, we're in the 21st century, there's absolutely no reason anyone should be discriminated against."