SFA urges Scottish football child abuse victims to speak out

A growing scandal of child abuse in English football could lead to victims coming forward in Scotland next, it has been suggested.
The SFA have partnered with the NSPCC. Picture: John DevlinThe SFA have partnered with the NSPCC. Picture: John Devlin
The SFA have partnered with the NSPCC. Picture: John Devlin

Four retired players came forward this week to talk about the abuse they suffered as young footballers in England, and two more former players spoke for the first time yesterday about being abused.

A dedicated NSPCC helpline was set up on Thursday with the support of the Football Association, English football’s governing body. It received more than 50 calls by 10am.

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The Scottish Football Association (SFA) has joined the campaign and has urged anyone with concerns to use the 24-hour counselling service.

And yesterday Fraser Wishart, chief executive of players’ union PFA Scotland, said it would be “naive to think that these allegations are unique to one part of the UK”.

Former players Andy Woodward, Steve Walters, Paul Stewart and David White spoke this week about the abuse they suffered as young footballers.

Mr Woodward, Mr Walters and Mr White said they were victims of Barry Bennell, a youth coach and scout with links to Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City and Stoke, while Mr Stewart was abused by another youth coach.

Bennell, 62, has served three prison sentences for child sex offences.

In an emotional interview with BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme yesterday, Mr Walters and Mr Woodward were joined by Chris Unsworth and Jason Dunford, who also waived their anonymity and spoke for the first time about the abuse they suffered at the hands of Bennell.

Mr Unsworth, 44, a former Manchester City youth player, said he had been raped between 50 and 100 times, with the abuse starting when he was just nine years old.

He said: “I kept it locked away right in the back of my head, but I am still reliving it.”

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Former youth player Mr Dunford spoke of how Bennell had tried to abuse him at a holiday camp after winning a football tournament, and compared Bennell to disgraced entertainer Jimmy Savile, who is thought to have abused hundreds of victims.

Mr Dunford described a culture of silence around abuse in the 1980s, saying: “Telling people wasn’t the thing to be done.”

Mr Wishart said: “The players who have come forward in England already have shown great courage and bravery.

“It would be naive to think that these allegations are unique to one part of the UK and, mindful of our responsibilities, we are pleased to be working with the Scottish FA to help create a safe environment for any player or former player … to come forward.”

The SFA is urging players and others involved in football – from grassroots level to the professional game – to speak up if they are aware of abuse.

Donna Martin, SFA child protection manager, said: “The safety and wellbeing of children is of paramount importance to the Scottish FA and significant steps have been taken to ensure that their protection is integral to Scottish football’s decision-making processes.

“We would urge anyone with any information relating to abuse or inappropriate behaviour, whether current or historic, to get in touch via the NSPCC’s helpline, or email [email protected].”

Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner, said the numbers of people involved could be high and called for a focus on vetting coaches and parents being alert to their child’s behaviour.

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He said: “Coaches are in a very powerful position and that kind of arrangement means that anyone with predatory behaviour sees it as an opportunity.”

NSPCC figures show boys are more than five times less likely to speak up about sexual abuse than girls, but the charity hopes the example of the former players will encourage more to speak out.