By Tony Attwood
I have written many times about what seems to me to be the woeful lack of oversight by the state of the way football clubs can behave when it comes to dealing with children. It seems there are virtually no regulations, and those that do exist can be flouted with impunity as clubs feel safe in the knowledge that if one child gets injured early on, then there are a thousand more talented youngsters who are anxious to take his or her place.
And they and their parents will rush forward and take any opportunity to sign up with a club because there is always an assumption that clubs will always do the right thing and look after these children and teenagers properly, even if they get injured.
Now I have been trying for some time to find out exactly what duties clubs have under the law in this regard, or indeed what obligations they have under the rulings of the FA when it comes to how the children and teenagers are treated when they get injured.
But beyond vague generalisations there is little I can find, and even less on what happens when something goes wrong. Yet as I have been mentioning a few times recently, it appears that I am not the only one following this line of enquiry, as this banner shows…
OK from that picture you don’t get much of an idea where that banner is displayed, although I hope you can read the text: “Stoke City FC destroyed by son’s medical records to cover up his injuries.”
But in fact that shot was actually taken in front of the High Court buildings in Birmingham which shows that someone, somewhere, is getting very annoyed with the way football clubs are behaving when it comes to children. Although, of course, we must be quite clear – a banner is not proof, it is just an allegation, and equally of course I have no insight into the rights and wrongs of what I presume is a case running, or soon to be running in that court.
But the fact is that one never ever reads anything in the media about the injuries to children and teenagers at football clubs, when one of the main topics in reporting professional football is the level of injuries the professional players get. And I find that really odd.
Yet adult players are to a large degree deemed to be able to handle their own affairs, and decide what they do. Children are not. But in a dangerous sport like football, wherein injuries are commonplace, everyone (children and adults) should have full advice and excellent medical support at all times.
And yet, despite all this, as I have mentioned before, we hear about cases arising where it becomes impossible to judge who is at fault, because enquiries are delayed and (it seems in the case here, although I have no details as to what is going on in relation to that) medical records are missing.
Now I have started writing emails to various bodies that might be responsible for ensuring that the medical records of football clubs both for adults and for children are always kept safe, and can’t suddenly become “deleted by mistake” from a computer or be “missing from the file” for reasons that cannot be explained.
And so far I have to say I am not getting anywhere at all.
As a result, one notion I have come up with is that all medical records and reports for all players associated at any level with a professional league club should be duplicated and forwarded immediately to a central registry. The rule would simply be that they could be uploaded at the end of each day to that registry and indexed by the name of the player, the club and the date.
That might seem to be onerous, but it is no different from the requirement for registering children at school each day, and the school keeping a record of who is in attendance each day, and all the accidents and injuries that occur at school. Schools can have over 1000 pupils and students in their care at any one time while even the biggest clubs are unlikely to have over 100 children on their books.
Indeed when I was chair of a (very small and insignificant) plc I didn’t handle the accident book personally but I was left in no doubt as to the importance of keeping such a book and ensuring it was always up to date. And the most dangerous thing we ever did was having forklift trucks load sacks onto delivery vans. Dangerous, but nothing like what happens on a football pitch.
Yet the chances of being injured or abused (physically or mentally) while at a club seem to be massively greater than being injured or abused at school or in most businesses. So there can be no excuse for not keeping proper medical records. Indeed doubly so as there has been a long history of the abuse of children within football clubs. We might think of Crewe, Manchester City, Newcastle United, Chelsea, Southampton, Peterborough…
I cannot understand why no one in the FA or the League is taking a situation in which the “missing medical files” is the instant way out of any allegation of the neglect of a youngster within a professional football club. It seems utterly appalling, and an open admission that abuse of children and teenagers in clubs is just a matter that happens.
I’m really glad someone, somewhere is chasing this matter. My own enquiries as to how children and teenagers are safeguarded at clubs are getting nowhere. I am glad someone else is fighting the system, while I (rather feebly it seems) am trying to find out more.
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