‘Talk­ing about what hap­pened helps’

Best - - BEST FOR AWARDS - say CHRIS UNSWORTH & STEVE WALTERS

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

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