Sexual abuse in football

The four players to speak publicly have each waived their right to anonymity as sex abuse victims. (Left to right) Paul Stewart, David White, Steve Walters and Andy Woodward have also gone public with their ordeals

Paul Stewart, David White, Steve Walters and Andy Woodward (left to right) have gone public with their ordeals, waiving their right to anonymity as sex abuse victims

Four former footballers have said they were sexually abused as youth players – and two more are set to come forward to the BBC on Friday.

A hotline set up by the NSPCC received more than 50 calls within its first two hours on Thursday.

The children’s charity expects “many more” ex-players to follow, while shadow sports minister Dr Rosena Allin-Khan says the scandal could “seriously damage the reputation of football” in the UK.

One of the players who spoke out, former Tottenham midfielder Paul Stewart, said the sport could face allegations on the scale of the Jimmy Savile scandal. After his death, former DJ and television presenter Savile was found to be one of the UK’s most prolific sexual predators.

Here’s what has happened so far.

Who has spoken out?

16 November: Former Bury and Sheffield United player Andy Woodward, 43, tells the Guardian he was sexually abused by convicted paedophile and former football coach Barry Bennell while at Crewe Alexandra between the ages of 11 and 15.

22 November: Steve Walters, 44, also claims he was sexually abused by Bennell while at Crewe. Walters, who in 1988 became the club’s youngest debutant, also made the allegations to the Guardian.

23 November: Former England and Tottenham footballer Paul Stewart, 52, tells the Mirror he was sexually abused as a youth player. Stewart, who began his professional career with Blackpool and also played for Manchester City and Liverpool, claims an unnamed coach – not Bennell – abused him daily for four years.

23 November: Ex-Manchester City striker David White, 49, alleges he was also sexually abused by Bennell in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while playing for Whitehill FC junior team in Manchester.

All four men waived their right to lifelong anonymity to speak out to the media.

24 November: According to the Guardian, an anonymous ex-footballer has contacted police to say he was a victim of George Ormond – a former Newcastle United youth coach who was jailed in 2002 for offences against young footballers in the area. Police are investigating an allegation of “historic sexual offences in Newcastle”.

25 November: Two other players who say they were abused by Bennell will waive their right to anonymity to speak on Friday’s edition of the Victoria Derbyshire programme (09:00 GMT, BBC Two).

What did the four ex-footballers say?

Andy Woodward: “It was his way of finding out which players were the weaker ones or the softer ones. It started within a few weeks. Initially it was sexually touching but it rapidly got worse and he raped me. I don’t want to put a number on how many times it happened, but it was over a four-year period.”

Steve Walters: “I just had to pretend it never happened and block it out. I knew it could never come out and I was absolutely petrified because I thought that if it did ever come out that would be it for my career – finished. All these years, I’ve had this secret inside me. It’s been unbearable but, just from reading the article from Andy, it already feels like a massive burden off my shoulders. I have to do this, and I just hope it will help bring more people forward, too.”

Paul Stewart: “One day, ­travelling in the car, he started to touch me. It frightened me to death, I did not know what to do. It progressed to sexually abusing me. He said he would kill my mother, my father, my two brothers if I breathed a word about it. The mental scars led me into other ­problems with drink and drugs. The level of abuse got worse and worse. I was always under threat, if I was not playing well, he would threaten me with violence as well as sexual abuse. He was a monster.”

David White: “While I believe throughout my football career I have come to terms with what had happened, I now realise the effects of Bennell’s actions were much more far-reaching than I knew then. I have come to terms with the fact Bennell’s actions influenced almost every event and relationship in my life.”

Who is Barry Bennell?


Bennell is believed to have been living in the Milton Keynes area

Woodward, Walters and White all say they were abused by Bennell.

He was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1998 after admitting sexual offences against six boys.

  • Bennell was a youth coach at Crewe Alexandra in the 1980s and 1990s and also had a close association with Stoke City and Manchester City.
  • He has been jailed three times for child sex abuse – including once in America.
  • He was jailed most recently in 2015 for two years – with a minimum term of 12 months – for a historic sexual offence committed against a 12-year-old boy on a football pitch in Macclesfield.
  • Florida Police said he had an “insatiable appetite” for young boys.
  • His crimes were, at one point, the subject of a Channel 4 Dispatches programme.
  • He described himself as a “monster” while giving evidence in court in 2015.
  • He remains permanently suspended from football.

On Thursday, Manchester City released a statement saying: “The club is aware of allegations that Barry Bennell had an association with Manchester City Football Club in the 1980s. As a result the club is currently undertaking a thorough investigation of any past links he might have had with the organisation.”

Have there been any arrests?

No, but Cheshire Police are speaking to 11 people who have contacted them with information since Woodward went public with his story.

That includes Walters, but does not include Stewart or White.

Greater Manchester Police have not received any reports of abuse.

On Thursday evening police were seen at Bennell’s address in Milton Keynes, removing a dog and some boxes.

What has been the reaction?

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Paul Stewart says he hopes that by telling his story, others will come forward too

Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said the former players had shown “incredible bravery” to speak out.

Former England striker Gary Lineker posted on Twitter after Stewart’s story was published: “Wish my former Spurs team-mate Paul Stewart all the very best. Extremely courageous in telling his appalling story. Really hope his speaking out helps him and others. Utterly sickening.”

Former England rugby union player Brian Moore who was abused as a child – tweeted: “Football isn’t to blame for recent sex abuse revelations but it does now have a responsibility to find out the extent of what happened.”

Former England midfielder Danny Murphy, who came through the ranks at Crewe when Bennell was at the club, described the coach as “charismatic”, but a “bit of a tyrant”.

Murphy added the football environment is “a perfect breeding ground for anybody who wants to do things to children”.

Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney, an NSPCC ambassador, said: “It’s awful that some of my colleagues have suffered this way whilst playing the sport that I and they love. It’s important that people know that it’s OK to speak out, there is help available and that they don’t need to suffer in silence.”

The head of equality and safeguarding at the Football Association (FA), Sue Ravenlaw, said the “courage and dignity” shown by the four former footballers was “immense”.

The Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) said it hoped other people affected will “have the confidence” to come forward as a result of the players’ “bravery”.


Woodward posted this tweet on Wednesday

What have Crewe said?

Crewe chairman John Bowler told BBC sports editor Dan Roan he was “infuriated and very disappointed” about Bennell’s crimes.

Bowler, who was chairman at the time of Bennell’s offences, was asked whether more could have been done. He replied: “When we’ve done our inquiries and looked at the detail of the various accusations, then I’ll be in a position to answer that kind of question.”

Crewe director of football Dario Gradi, who has been associated with the club for more than 30 years and was manager from 1983 to 2007, said he “knew nothing” about Bennell’s abuse of young footballers until his arrest in the US in 1994.

Woodward said it was “scandalous” Crewe had taken so long to address the case and said no-one at the club has ever apologised to him.

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Crewe chairman ‘distressed’ by abuse claims

What about football’s authorities?

Senior FA officials met Woodward on Thursday to discuss the allegations in more detail, while the PFA is also meeting players who have contacted them.

Following the meeting with FA chairman Greg Clarke, Woodward said: “My concern is not looking back now, it is looking at what to do now, what to put in place to protect children even at grassroots.”

Clarke said his immediate priority was to ensure potential victims “felt safe” to come forward and “report terrible crimes”.

He told BBC Sport: “I’d like to share my regret at the pain victims suffered and make sure no stones are left unturned in making sure there isn’t a new generation of victims – and victims that have been hurt are truly helped.”

Clarke said he had written to thousands of professional and amateur football clubs in England, saying “let’s assume there is a problem and let’s get after it”.

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Greg Clarke said the FA would focus its attention on helping the victims

Ravenlaw, meanwhile, reiterated the FA’s safeguards:

  • Criminal record checks are required for those in regulated activity with children.
  • More than 35,000 people go through the FA’s safeguarding children awareness workshop, or tailored training every season.
  • The FA requires every club or league with affiliated teams who are under 18, to have a named, trained designated safeguarding officer, who has been criminal record checked.

Shadow sports minister Allin-Khan said she welcomed the FA’s involvement but wants the governing body to do more.

She said a criminal record check on coaches was “not enough”, adding: “The FA needs to look immediately at what action can be taken to ensure our children are being coached and supervised only by those who have their best interests at heart.”

  • The FA is also supporting a hotline set up by the NSPCC. It is available 24 hours a day on 0800 0232642

How widespread could abuse be?

Woodward told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme he believed his experience was “the tip of the iceberg”.

Two other players who say they were abused by Bennell will waive their right to anonymity to speak on Friday’s edition of the same programme (09:00 GMT, BBC Two).

They have come forward after seeing Woodward’s interview.

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Andy Woodward speaks about being sexually abused by his coach

Stewart, meanwhile, said “hundreds” of children may have been sexually abused by figures within football.

Asked if he feared the allegations football is facing could be as big as the Savile scandal, he told the BBC: “Yes, I do, for sure. I would almost guarantee it as long as the victims are willing to come forward.”

The NSPCC’s John Cameron said it could be “reminiscent of Operation Yewtree”, a police investigation set up in 2012 to examine allegations of sexual abuse by Savile, which subsequently dealt with cases involving other celebrities.

“This is going to have an enormous impact,” he told BBC Radio 5 live. “There are more players out there that both the NSPCC and FA strongly suspect have been victims of sexual abuse.

“It is an absolute disgrace and misuse of authority, and hopefully a number of people will be brought to account.”

PFA chief Gordon Taylor said: “Because of Andy Woodward’s bravery, many other ex-players and apprentices are now contacting us – it is double figures now – and that is a timely warning for everybody in football about our duty of care to these youngsters.”

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Could abuse still be happening?

Former Chelsea and Scotland winger Pat Nevin says he “wouldn’t be surprised” to discover young footballers are still being sexually abused.

Nevin told BBC Radio 5 live he is “surprised” but not “shocked” by the recent allegations because he believes youth football provides a “ripe” environment for paedophiles to operate.

Former FA chief executive Mark Palios, now executive chairman at Tranmere Rovers, said he thought football was in a “better position today than 20 or 30 years ago”.

“You can never be complacent you have got rid of it in the game, you have to be constantly vigilant,” he told BBC Radio 5 live.

“This is a timely reminder, all clubs should test what happens in practice, they all have regulations and what is required these regulations are honoured. It is a wake up call to clubs to check these things.”

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