Abuse of young people at football clubs: has anything changed?



Child abuse in football

by Tony Attwood

The last child abuse scandal relating to football clubs in England started in November 2016.  Players came forward to tell how they were abused as children, and there were allegations of a cover-up by clubs, and possibly by the authorities such as the FA and the Leagues. Indeed it seemed extraordinary that there had been so much of this going on, and yet no one ever spoke out.

So extraordinary in fact that one might wonder if there are any other institutional failings within football.  After all, it wasn’t just that abuse was going on, but rather it seems an awfully large number of people were aware of this, but simply turning a blind eye.

As a result, it is perfectly reasonable to ask if we are all absolutely sure that young people in football clubs are being properly treated in all other aspects of their lives at the clubs.

What makes me wonder about such things is the fact that the Sheldon report, published in March 2021 said that the FA was culpable of “institutional failure” in the child sex scandal that was revealed at the time, and yet here is the same FA still in place.   And I wonder, if the FA couldn’t realise there was child abuse going on (and not just child sex abuse), on a massive scale, is it likely to be able to recognise any other form of bad behaviour currently existent within football.

Now this is not just a vague feeling that something might be wrong that I have. Rather having seen, for example, the gross inability of the FA to run the Euros final at Wembley in a seemly and organised manner, and knowing that the child sex abuse scandal went on, under their noses for years, every time I hear of something else being amiss, I now tend to take noteice.

I mean to say, just taking Liverpool FC as an example we know that some years back Liverpool were banned from signing academy players and fined £100,000.    Then two Liverpool players were investigated over sexual harassment claims.  In 2017 Liverpool, Premier League Agree to Settlement in Tapping-Up Scandal.  And that is all just at one club.

Playing for a top club is obviously a highly attractive notion both for teeenagers and their parents.  The glamour and potential earnings are enormous.   So lots of youngsters are being presented to clubs in the hope that they might be signed.   

But who is to say that the clubs look after these young players properly?   For example, if a young player gets seriously injured can we be sure he is properly treated for the injury, rather than simply being handed back to his parents with a note saying he’s not good enough?

Now in any other walk of life, injuries at work have to be properly reported and recorded and all the records kept and stored safely.   And recent reports I have seen make me wonder if this is the case, or whether inconvenient records showing a player is injured are simply “lost”.

And I wonder this because my very basic enquiries have revealed that clubs have no obligation to register duplicates of injury records for young players with, for example, the FA.  In other words a player can be injured, dropped by the club, and then any records of his injury unfortunately “lost” so that the club has no liability or obligation to the player.

What is so awful about this is that it would be dead easy for the FA as the controlling organisation to ensure this did not happen by demanding digital copies of all medical records be forwarded to a searchable archive directly from the medical professionals who treat players, month by month.  But they don’t and they won’t.

And what worries me is that it is the FA we are talking about, who were totally ignorant of the child sex abuse scandal, and did nothing to ensure that the Bradford City stadium fire in 1985 could not happen (for example by having the ground properly inspected).  And who in 2002, the Charity Commission found had failed to meet its legal obligations under charity law, by failing to specify what money from ticket sales for the Charity Shield went to charity, and for delaying payments to the charities nominated.

So I am not holding my breath about this, and nor am I expecting the media to take any interest since they have far too much invested in football to do anything to endanger the goodwill of clubs or the FA, who give them free tickets to events.

But we really, really do need an organisation that is independent of football but which is free to stick its nose into club business, league business and the FA’s business and sets up proper regulations.

And my nomination for the first regulation that such a body would implement is that if a player aged under 18 is injured, details of his injury are sent week by week to a nominated independent body, so there is no chance of the injury details being “unfortunately lost”.  That way if it turns out later that the injury the child suffered has long-term effects, the child can then make a claim against the club – as can happen in any other area of employment.

It really wouldn’t be a very complicated thing to set up.



One Reply to “Abuse of young people at football clubs: has anything changed?”

  1. Thanks, Tony
    On this, as on many other subjects, let’s hope your “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” will be heard

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