By many football is referred to as the ‘beautiful game’, but in reality it can be anything but.
It all began last week when former Bury and Sheffield United Andy Woodward waived his anonymity and broke his silence about alleged child sex abuse he faced from the man now being branded ‘football’s Jimmy Savile’, Barry Bennell.
Speaking to The Guardian the 43-year-old said he was sexually abused by the convicted paedophile and former football coach between the ages of 11 and 15 at Crewe Alexandra.
We’ve seen with the Jimmy Savile case how people have had the courage, yet I’d say within the football world it’s even harder to speak out. Only now, at the age of 43, I feel I can actually live without that secret and that massive, horrible burden. I want to get it out and give other people an opportunity to do the same. I want to give people strength. I survived it. I lost my career, which was a massive thing for me, but I’m still here. I came through the other side. Other people can have that strength.
The bravery he showed did exactly that. Less than a week later another former Crewe player spoke out. Steve Walters, who in 1988 became the club’s youngest debutant, also made the allegations against Bennell.
Ex-Manchester City striker David White, 49, also alleged he too was sexually abused by Bennell in the late 70s and early 80s, while playing for the Whitehill FC junior team in Manchester.
But it wasn’t only Bennell who was implicated. Former England and Tottenham footballer Paul Stewart, 52, told The Mirror he was sexually abused as a youth player. Stewart, who played for Manchester City and Liverpool, claims an unnamed coach – not Bennell – abused him daily for four years.
Stewart went on to say that the sport could face allegations on the scale of the Jimmy Savile scandal and fears grew that a paedophile ring may have been operating in North West football at the time, which could mean there are hundreds of other victims.
An NSPCC hotline, set up after these ex-footballers spoke out about being sexually abused by coaches as children, had already received 100 calls by Thursday night, raising concerns about children now and in the past.
Speaking to Sky News, The National Association for People Abused in Childhood said it has recorded a spike in calls from men, who usually make up only 20% of callers to its helplines.
It was revealed today that a former Newcastle United player told police he had been molested by convicted paedophile coach George Ormond.
And another two ex-Crewe Alexandra youngsters, Jason Dunford and Chris Unsworth waived their anonymity and appeared exclusively on the Victoria Derbyshire programme alongside Woodward and Walters earlier today.
“We’ve had our lives and careers snatched away from us. We want justice now,” Walters defiantly said during the highly emotional show. “Savile looks like a choir boy compared to this fella right now,” Dunford added.
Bennell was arrested in 1998 and pleaded guilty to 23 specimen charges, dating from 1978 to 1992, at Chester Crown Court and was jailed for nine years. Another 22 offences were left on file.
He also served a four-year sentence in the United States and in 2015 was given a two-year term for sexually abusing a boy at a training camp in Macclesfield, but is now out of prison.
He had worked with junior teams for decades and also worked with other professional clubs including Stoke City, Leeds United and Manchester City.
This raises several questions, not only about the failings of the clubs Bennell was involved with, but the England’s football governing body the FA and the police as well.
In 2001, the FA put in place new rules to protect children, requiring all teams to have a trained safeguarding or welfare officer.
Former Football Association chief executive Mark Palios also told BBC Breakfast that the FA had sent letters to clubs across the country urging them to look at their procedures.
“It’s a different world now thankfully, I’m more confident now that it won’t happen now,” Dunford said on the Victoria Derbyshire program.
But still to this day, dealing with child sex abuse is something the police seem to increasingly struggle with. In a report today inspectors found that there have been ‘serious failings’ in the way the Met Police deals with these type of crimes and it was putting children at risk.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary found 75% of cases were dealt with ‘inadequately’ or needing improvement, the BBC reports. And we can’t forget the failings of police in grooming rings in both Rochdale and Rotherham.
With the NSPCC expecting ‘many more’ ex-players to follow it shows that the incredible bravery, the epitome of courage shown by these men has helped create a dialogue and send a powerful message to young men everywhere.
Victims of child abuse should not have to suffer in silence.
Staffed by independent, experienced NSPCC professionals, the helpline offers support and guidance for victims of childhood sexual abuse within the game. It is available 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.