A developing child abuse scandal in English football escalated dramatically over the weekend, as more former players came forward with claims they were assaulted and raped by coaches when training as children.
Fears have been raised that multiple abusers used coaching and other positions to sexually exploit young boys who dreamed of football stardom, and that teen players may have been targeted by an organised paedophile ring. There have even been suggestions that the “respected” manager of a major club may have been involved in abuse.
It was reported earlier today that Barry Bennell, the coach at the centre of initial allegations made by former Crewe player Andy Woodward two weeks ago, had been taken to hospital after being found unconscious.
Since Woodward went public with his allegations, a number of other former players have come forward to say they suffered abuse at the hands of Bennell and others during the 1980s and 1990s, prompting concerns that the game may have been home to similar levels of abuse as the British entertainment industry at the time.
In the last few days, both the FA and Crewe Alexandra have said they will launch separate investigations into the allegations, while the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has revealed that more than 20 accusations of historical sexual abuse had now been made against club workers.
Speaking to Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek, PFA CEO Gordon Taylor revealed that seven clubs are involved in the claims.
“I can’t believe it’s just going to be in the north-west and north-east,” he said. “We need to be mindful this could be throughout the country in the same way it’s been in other professions where children are there – in the church, in schools.”
Separately, the Telegraph yesterday reported that one top-flight football club paid off a former player who had made allegations that he was raped by a coach when he was a child. The payment was made in the last two years after the man complained to the club and police in London. A strict confidentiality clause in the settlement agreement prevented the victim and his family from speaking out about his claims.
The controversy has exploded as a massive UK government inquiry into historical child abuse across British institutions has floundered from one disaster to another. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has lost three chairs since July, as well the confidence of survivors groups on multiple occasions.
As long ago as December 2014, Labour MP Simon Danczuk suggested the UK government might be deliberately sabotaging the inquiry to protect high-profile establishment figures who have been accused of abuse. Police are still investigating whether senior politicians may have been involved in child sexual exploitation, but have so far failed to produce any evidence.