Commentary

English soccer wracked by cases of child abuse on scale of Savile scandal

Since the public revelations last month by former pro Andy Woodward of suffering sexual abuse a young player, dozens of suspects and clubs have been named and the English Football Association plans to conduct an internal review. Police officials say 83 suspects have been implicated and 98 clubs through all levels of the English game have been affected.

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) says 98 percent of the victims are male and the age range is 7 to 20 of those allegedly abused. In mid-November, Woodward revealed that he’d been sexually abused as a young player. Allegations from Woodward -- who played for Crew Alexandra, Bury, and Sheffield United -- prompted other players, including Paul Stewart and David White, to speak publicly of their stories.

Woodward has spearheaded the formation of an independent entity, the Offside Trust, to support victims and is seeking donations from the FA, Football League, Premier League, Professional Footballers' Association and business organizations that invest in the English game to support the effort.

Stewart, a former Spurs player, says the sport could be on the brink of a scandal such as the one that enveloped Jimmy Savile. After his death in 2011, the former DJ and radio and television personality was revealed as a prolific sexual predator accused by hundreds of victims -- children and adults -- in cases of abuse and rape.

A lawyer representing the Offside Trust told the BBC “calls and emails are coming in all the time” from people claiming to have been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements with clubs in return for compensation. Edward Smethurst said “several” victims have come forward.

A few clubs have already taken action. Chelsea is investigating allegations raised by former player Gary Johnson, who suffered abuse in the 1970s. Queen’s Park Rangers have pledged its support of investigations into the behavior of former employee Chris Gieler.

Ex-Southampton coach Bob Higgins has denied allegations that he gave a “naked massage” to former player Matt Le Tissier and showered with young players while working for the Maltese soccer federation from 1989 to 1994.

Clive Sheldon is heading an internal review by the English FA of what cases had been brought to its attention and whether action was taken. A BBC program investigating the issue reported  the FA in 2003 scrapped a major review of its child protection policies. Ian Ackley told the program that his father's calls for better protection "fell on deaf ears" and the FA reacted "dismissively" to worries about abuse in the game. Ackley says he was abused while a Manchester City youth player.

Crewe Alexandra football director Dario Gradi will be questioned by the FA regarding claims he squelched a complaint of sex assault brought against scout Eddie Heath in the 1970s.

The Child Protection in Sport Unit will review the FA's practices. Twenty-one police organizations, including the Metropolitan Police (Greater London), have opened investigations into the claims: Devon and Cornwall, Warwickshire, Avon and Somerset, Essex, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Dorset, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester, North Wales, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Cheshire, West Midlands, South Wales, Dyfed-Powys, Scotland Yard, Police Scotland, Northumbria Police, Derbyshire Constabulary, and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

A sexual abuse hotline set up by the NSPCC and supported by the FA received 860 calls within its first three days. Cases involving soccer teams, coaches and players are also being investigated in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

3 comments about "English soccer wracked by cases of child abuse on scale of Savile scandal".
  1. Tim Gibson, December 10, 2016 at 9:39 a.m.

    Thx for taking this on Ridge. I've been waiting for Soccer America to comment on this sad news as damaging as it is to Soccer. It will be interesting to watch how it affects the FA (this is their Sandusky scandal) & if the fans care or not....my guess is it will quietly go away but hopefully some new rules & credibility will come in it's wake.

  2. aaron dutch, December 10, 2016 at 3:09 p.m.

    There should be far more oversight, reporting, audit, survey, hotline & leadership from soccer media, parents, federation, organizations etc.. to confront any abuse that we have in the U.S. My view is the majority of our abuse is verbal & psychological which is on a such a massive scale as the last 2 generation of coaches have used yelling, hostile environment to create a complete unhealthy space for youth to grow into. No one would tolerate a teacher or school that had what we can see every Sat or Sun on U7-U18 fields. We should be able to report out & document the behavior to re educate those coaches who "get it" and move on the ones who dont. There are good programs like this but they should be promoted.......http://www.playbytherules.net.au/interactive-scenarios/verbally-abusive-coach...

  3. Quarterback TD, December 11, 2016 at 8:25 a.m.

    Until we start putting people in jail FOR LIFE for child abuse, rapes and assault on women this nonsense will keep happening-- people continue to do crime because they think they will escape or the law will hit them with a small fine or short jail sentence..

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