Manchester City and Chelsea are among clubs which have “missed warning signs” of historic child sexual abuse due to “ignorance and naivety,” an independent report commissioned by the Football Association found.
Clive Sheldon QC’s long-awaited review of the scandal that rocked English football was released today and, while much of its content has already been leaked, is shocking to read.
Sheldon examines the period 1970-2005 by focusing on the actions of the governing body of English football and the clubs where several predatory sex offenders were employed or linked.
The long list of failures in many different clubs to protect children playing a sport they loved is heartbreaking.
But perhaps the most appalling part of Sheldon’s findings is the fact that so many sex offenders were able to operate in English football hidden in plain sight.
The scandal erupted just in 2016, when Andy Woodward’s landmark interview with Daniel Taylor, then de the Guardian, was published under the headline: “Former professional footballer, now 43, is finally able to speak publicly about the horrific abuse he suffered from the age of 11 by one of his coaches , in the hope that others will come forward as well. “
Woodward’s courageous interview sparked an avalanche of other people telling terrible stories of abuse, some of them prominent people who had played at the highest level of the sport.
The scale of the revelations was so shocking that former FA President Greg Clarke described them as one of the greatest crises in the history of the governing body.
“Missed warning signs”
It may have taken until 2016 for the victims to gain national attention, but that didn’t mean the clubs involved were unaware at the time.
As with the similar historic child sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the UK for the past decade, there have been, as Sheldon points out, ‘warning signs’ that have been’ missed. or have not been implemented â.
He believes that “it was generally out of ignorance or naivety”.
âThere was often the feeling that without ‘hard evidence’ or a specific allegation from a child, nothing could or should be done, and there was therefore a reluctance to investigate or monitor, let alone confront the perpetrator and interfere with his actions. ” He adds
The consequences of such inaction were dire.
âAs a result, in many cases the perpetrators were able to hide in football and use their positions to ruin the lives of many children,â writes Sheldon.
Manchester City and Chelsea are the two most high-profile clubs criticized by Sheldon, but the 700-page report details numerous other cases involving a series of clubs from Newcastle United to Southampton, Leicester City to Aston Villa.
In the case of Manchester City and its association with Barry Bennell, a child molester so bad that a judge once called him the “devil incarnate,” Sheldon illustrates how there could be an open secret about abuse.
“During Bennell’s association with Manchester City, the club were not aware of Bennell’s allegations of abuse,” he explains.
âHowever, the club’s senior management have been made aware of the rumors about Bennell and concerns about his conduct.
“Some staff seem to have called Bennell a ‘children’s fiddler.’
“The staff also knew the boys were spending the night at Bennell’s – something some found suspicious.”
His point of view is simple: Manchester City should have investigated.
Equally depressing is the fact that in the few instances where allegations of abuse have been made, Sheldon finds that they have not been dealt with properly.
Chelsea are criticized for not acting correctly when revelations were made to them by former scout Eddie Heath.
An allegation of abuse by Heath was made to a former assistant coach who spoke to the interim manager about it, but nothing happened as a result.
“Steps should have been taken to protect the young player who made the disclosure and other boys from Eddie Heath’s sexual advances and misconduct,” he wrote.
Sheldon says he is satisfied that the large-scale external lawyer reviews carried out by Manchester City and Chelsea, who have shown that they have now “sought the truth about what happened”.
Following the publication of the report, Manchester City issued a detailed statement in which he details the âexhaustive reviewâ conducted by Jane Mulcahy QC.
He also cited the ‘Manchester City FC Survivors’ Scheme ‘, launched in 2019, which offers’ compensation, paid advice and personal apologies – face to face when preferable – to eligible survivors as an alternative to the often lengthy legal proceedings. , expensive and arduous. “
The statement saw the board and club “publicly and wholeheartedly apologize for the unimaginable suffering endured by those who have been abused” and express “heartfelt regret and sympathy to multiple family members and friends affected by these traumatic events “.
While it is undeniable that these actions are a positive step, they do little to repair past failures.
It is easy to classify scandals like this as the product of another era, when a lack of understanding or bad culture was more prevalent in British society.
But it allows everyone to get off the hook too easily.
Wherever disproportionate power exists, especially without checks and balances, exploitation and abuse are always a threat.
As a journalist who has covered extensively modern slavery and human trafficking in Britain, the casual acceptance of potential violations of the human rights of vulnerable people is very familiar.
I have met many companies whose senior executives admitted that they thought there might be a problem, but did not want to investigate it.
Too often, the responsibility for breaking the silence lies with the victims when it should be with those in power to do so.
Sheldon cites that leading child welfare and sports scholar Celia Brackenridge raised concerns as early as the 1980s, but was not listened to.
He quotes former sports council development director Anita White, who said Brackenridge’s message was not the one sports organizations wanted to hear.
“[They] didn’t really want to admit a child abuse problem in sports. They hesitated to recognize him [â¦] it was not a popular message to pass â.
It should be a warning.