London: A British children’s charity has launched a new telephone helpline for sexual abuse victims after four English former footballers said they were abused by their coaches during childhood.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has set up a dedicated football hotline with the support of England’s Football Association.
It comes after former Manchester City and England forward David White became the fourth ex-player to allege abuse by a youth coach, following previous announcements by Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Paul Stewart.
“There must be no hiding place for sexual abuse in our national game and there may be many others who suffered through such horrors as young players, but have never come forward,” said NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless in a statement released on Thursday.
“As this week’s revelations have laid bare, people must be able to speak out and get the help they need and we know that can often be more difficult for men and boys.
“We welcome the FA’s commitment to helping those in the game get the help and support they need.”
The NSPCC says boys are more than five times less likely to report sexual abuse than girls.
Britain’s Professional Footballers’ Association says the number of players who have got in touch with similar stories about sexual abuse has reached double figures.
Prior to White’s announcement on Wednesday, the FA’s head of equality and safeguarding Sue Ravenlaw said: “The courage and dignity being shown by Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Paul Stewart is immense.
“We join Andy, the police and others in the continued efforts to encourage more victims and survivors to come forward. We urge people to utilise this specific NSPCC helpline to gain support and advice.”
White, Woodward and Walters all allege they were abused by the same man, convicted paedophile Barry Bennell, who sexually abused young boys across three decades from the 1970s.
Former Tottenham Hotspur striker Stewart, capped three times by England, said he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an unnamed man who threatened to kill his family if he told anyone.
FA chairman Greg Clarke has expressed regret over the fact his organisation refused to comment on Bennell when approached by a television documentary in 1997.
“That is appalling,” Clarke, who became FA chairman in August, told reporters at Wembley Stadium.
“We’ve got 8,500 safeguarding officers out there in the community and I wrote to 30,000 clubs today to raise their awareness.
“These are heinous crimes and they need to be investigated by the police and they will get our support.”
Clarke was speaking after a meeting with Woodward which he said had been “very emotional”.
Both Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City, where Bennell worked, have opened investigations into Bennell’s links with their clubs.
Crewe’s director of football Dario Gradi, the club’s manager between 1983 and 2007, said he knew nothing about Bennell’s behaviour until around 1994.
“I would like to express sympathy to the victims of Barry Bennell not only at Crewe Alexandra, but at other clubs in the north west,” Gradi said in a statement.
“The first I knew of Barry Bennell’s crimes was when he was arrested in the United States in 1994. I knew nothing of his crimes before this time when he was employed by us.”