Football is one of the world’s most beloved sports, enjoyed by young and old alike and has the power to rally whole nations and communities around local and national teams. Sadly, it’s emerged over recent years that young players at some of the UK’s most prominent clubs suffered child sexual abuse, with these revelations deeply affecting the wider football communities. One player, Andy Woodward, waived his right to anonymity in order to talk publicly about the abuse he suffered and to shine a light on the allegations.
On November 16th 2016, Andy alleged in an interview with The Guardian that he’d been the victim of child sexual abuse while playing for Crewe Alexandra’s youth squad through the ages of 11 to 15. The abuser was revealed to be the club’s former football coach Barry Bennell, who’d been part of the club during the 1980s and coached the junior footballers for the team.
Andy had suffered repeated sexual abuse by Bennell during his time on the youth squad, with Bennell having complete access to the young boys on the squad with training camps at holiday resorts being a regular occurrence, with Bennell taking some boys into his room during the overnight stays.
It emerged in February 2019 that Dario Gradi, the club manager for Crewe in the 1980s, admitted that the club had skipped background checks on Barry Bennell as they’d been trying to poach him from Manchester City, while the club on the whole had failed to recognize the opportunities that youth football could present to predators.
Following this initial statement from Woodward which publicly revealed the abuse he’d suffered, the PFA said that more than 20 players with similar stories had contacted them within weeks and implicated further clubs, raising concerns of even more widespread abuse that previously thought. Additional investigations were carried out as a result of Andy’s statement, with major case reviews into the failings of many other clubs in protecting the young players from abusers.
Andy has since gone on to release more information about how his abuser had been part of his wider home life, and has published a book which tackles the topic of his abuse in greater detail and gives insight into how the abuse went on the affect his mental health in profound ways.
Safeguarding principles are an essential part of protecting children from harm, and standards have improved across the board since the 80s. Stories like Andy Woodward’s show how important it is to be constantly vigilant and aware of potential roles and activities abusers could exploit. If you’re interested in developing a deeper understanding of safeguarding principles and how to protect vulnerable children, take a look at our online safeguarding courses here.
You can also check out our useful and informative downloadable resources, including this poster on the duty of care in sport.