Termed ‘football’s dirty secret’, allegations of child sex abuse have emanated from numerous former professional footballers since Andy Woodward went public with his story over a week ago. David White, Steve Walters and Paul Stewart are amongst twenty players from various clubs, who have all come forward with their harrowing stories. Much, though certainly by no means all, of the abuse centres around former Crewe Alexandra coach Barry Bennell who has already served three jail sentences for child sex offences, and, at the time of writing, has been charged with eight offences of sexual assault against the same boy: A boy of 14 years of age. Crewe, although not instantly, stated that they will run their own internal investigation. The English FA have also been keen to get involved to find out the extent of the abuse, of where, how and why it has permeated in the English game for so long and why it was kept quiet. None of these are easy questions to answer.
The FA chairman Greg Clarke has claimed that ‘the 1990s society was sleep walking and we were part of the problem’. Charities such as the NSPCC as well as the police and any other institution which needs to be at the forefront of the investigations will be involved in uncovering these long-hidden events. Government enquiries – amidst the current general enquiry into child sex abuses – will also be carried out in some shape or form. Over the last few days it has been unearthed that Chelsea paid one of the alleged victims to keep quiet. Clubs such as Blackpool, Cambridge, Peterborough and Leeds United have also been implicated, demonstrating that the scandal is clearly very widespread.
The fact that a club coach used his position in order to sexually abuse and exploit young children does not want thinking about, it is simply disgusting. Not only did these players go through physical pain, just to follow their dream of being a professional footballer, but the emotional and mental effects of what happened will have scarred them for life. Despite this, five-time darts world champion Eric Bristow tweeted several controversial ideas regarding this harrowing subject. He stated that these footballers should have come forward at the time, showing his lack of empathy for the situations they found themselves in; he tweeted that this would never happen to darts players, as if the mere fact that these were aspiring footballers was linked to why they, in his view, ‘let it happen’, also claiming that, and I quote, ‘bet the rugby boys are okay ha’; and, finally, using homophobic slurs and disgusting language, he also described the victims as ‘wimps’, even though the bravery they showed, and by coming out this week are still showing, is more than most people could ever dream of showing. After being put down by Piers Morgan and Susannah Reid on Good Morning Britain on Wednesday morning, he finally apologised. However it was too little, too late. The former darts player has been sacked from his punditry role with Sky Sports after causing unnecessary offence and sadness to victims, their families, their friends, and anyone with a connection to the case, after his ill-educated comments, which will have only added to the suffering.
This child sex abuse scandal will certainly not go away. The extent of the crimes done will now need to be thoroughly researched, the football clubs in question will need to answer some important and uncomfortable questions surrounding their involvement and any possible collusion. As Bristow’s tweets show, more must be done to educate the population about this disgusting crime; this is not to say the majority, or even many, people have the same repulsive views, but nonetheless it is a topic which, even in 2016, still has various myths attached to it. Justice needs to be done, victims need closure, paedophiles need locking up and all complicity needs accounting for. At the moment this remains football’s dirty secret, let’s hope that truth and justice will prevail and, whatever happened does not remain a secret for much longer.
Featured Image: Target