Sex­ual abuse in English foot­ball ex­posed as vic­tims speak out

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

For­mer English foot­ball play­ers who were sub­jected to years of sex­ual abuse by youth team coaches en­trusted with their care are break­ing cover to ex­pose the game's dark se­crets.

Har­row­ing sto­ries of as­saults on young play­ers by men they re­lied on to turn them into pro­fes­sion­als are forc­ing au­thor­i­ties and clubs to fi­nally ad­dress how child abusers were able to ex­ploit their po­si­tions of power and why the be­hav­ior wasn't con­fronted ear­lier.

The abuses were first un­cov­ered two decades ago with the con­vic­tion of English coach Barry Ben­nell in the United States and his home­land. Ben­nell worked in acad­e­mies across north­west Eng­land in­clud­ing Manch­ester City, Stoke and Crewe Alexandra, which was renowned as a cen­ter for turn­ing raw tal­ent into the com­plete foot­baller.

The tor­ment suf­fered by play­ers is only now re­ceiv­ing more wide­spread at­ten­tion along with a de­ter­mi­na­tion to dis­cover how far reach­ing sex­ual ex­ploita­tion of young­sters has been in English foot­ball.

Four po­lice forces across Eng­land, in­clud­ing Lon­don, have opened in­ves­ti­ga­tions af­ter be­ing con­tacted about Ben­nell and other un­named peo­ple.

Lead­ing clubs Manch­ester City and New­cas­tle said they are as­sist­ing au­thor­i­ties and the play­ers' union has been guid­ing the play­ers who re­vealed their iden­ti­ties.

Andy Wood­ward, who went on to play for Sh­effield United, tes­ti­fied in Ben­nell's 1998 court case and was the first player to go public re­cently a year af­ter con­tact­ing Ben­nett.

Since then, other re­tired play­ers have been emerg­ing to tell their sto­ries of abuse at the hands of other coaches. The prospect of boys be­ing turned into well-paid foot­ball stars meant that par­ents of­ten handed over con­trol of their chil­dren to foot­ball clubs and their coaches.

Wood­ward's story gave other vic­tims of Ben­nell and un­named coaches the courage to come for­ward and com­pel au­thor­i­ties to end the in­er­tia that sur­rounded the 1990s rev­e­la­tions.

Manch­ester City launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion af­ter David White and Paul Stewart, who played for the club across the 1980s and 1990s and went on to fea­ture for Eng­land, came for­ward with their sto­ries.

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