While Macklemore performed at the NRL grand final, one man held his partner's hand and wept.

When Macklemore performed Same Love at the NRL grand final yesterday, one man held his partner’s hand and wept.

That man was Ian Roberts – the first and only professional football player to ever come out as gay.

When Roberts declared his sexuality in 1995, while he was still playing in the league, it was huge news. Since then no other male footballer, in any code, has made a public announcement about their sexuality.

Peter FitzSimons was sitting next to Roberts at the game and witnessed the moment when Roberts saw that the world, including the macho working class world of the NRL, had finally caught up to him.

In his column for the Sydney Morning Herald, FitzSimons described Roberts as “clearly nervous” as Macklemore was about to take the stage.

Listen to Mia Freedman interview Janine Middleton, the heterosexual, conservative, pearl-wearing CEO of Marriage Equality Australia. Post continues after audio.

“So how would this pure rugby league crowd react, these folk tried and true, these truest of blue, in this most working class of games?” he writes. “Would they boo? Would they hiss?  Turn their backs? If so, it would be a disaster, and vindication for the critics.”

As FitzSimons described it, the football-loving crowd actually “exploded” with support when Macklemore started singing Same Love.

ian roberts macklemore
Ian Roberts on The Footy Show. Image via Channel Nine.

"They stomp, they cheer, they sing along, they turn the lights of their iPhones on, and wave them in rhythm, instantly turning the arena into a massive sparkling wonderland."

Beside FitzSimons, Roberts held the hand of his partner, Daniel, and wept. He could see how far the crowd had come in the 25 years since he came out.

His earlier gamble of asking NRL chief executive, Todd Greenberg, to show support for marriage equality had paid off.

Roberts told FitzSimons Macklemore's performance and the support from the crowd would have a huge impact on the LGBTI community.

"It will save lives," Roberts said. "Simple as that. It will save lives."

00:00 / ???