‘Talking about what happened helps’
Ask most little boys what their dream job would be, and the majority would say ‘professional footballer’.
That was certainly true of Chris Unsworth and Steve Walters. Both showed such early promise that they were scouted for Crewe Alexandra’s FC Academy, aged 12 and 11.
But, far from it being a dream come true, they found themselves in the clutches of a predatory paedophile.
Chris and Steve suffered years of abuse, both keeping it secret out of a misplaced sense of shame and helplessness.
Then, in November 2016, British football was rocked by a series of high-profile revelations about child sexual abuse. And both men found the courage to speak out.
In response, many former pros came forward anonymously to share their stories. It highlighted the very real need for better checks and controls within the youth coaching system.
Spurred on, Chris and Steve, now both 45, set up The Offside Trust, dedicated to protecting young footballers. It also provides counselling and support to victims.
The Trust is currently seeking collaboration and funding from a variety of bodies, including Sport England and the Football Association. And they are lobbying for support from clubs and current players.
‘Initially, we presumed we’d get the support of every single player and club,’ Steve says. ‘But we still need more current footballers to support us.’
Working to wipe out the abuse, Chris and Steve still have to deal with the past.
For Chris, his ordeal drove him out of football, aged 16. He turned to his other sporting love of golf, and became a professional player. Steve became a pro footballer and has played at Wembley.
Chris now works as a funeral director, and lives in the Peak District with his partner, Louise. Steve, who is married to Misty and lives in Wrexham, dropped out of professional football in 1995 and now runs his own industrial cleaning business.
Using their traumas for a positive purpose has helped.
‘The Offside Trust makes a difference, and that gives me the drive to carry on,’ says Chris.
Steve went on to become a pro player Steve and Chris lived through years of abuse Traumatised, Chris left the sport he loved