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By Tony Attwood
Barry Bennell, also known as Richard Jones, has died. He raped and abused multiple children who were attempting to live the dream by being trained with Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra. Although there were still multiple cases against Bennell when he died, the government’s prosecution service seemed to have given up on taking the cases to court.
Now with Bennell dead, it seems the issue is being shut down. Football was beset with evil, and utterly and totally failed to deal with it. Time to forget.
There is at least one other dangerous situation involving young players at football clubs which is not being investigated at all by the media, just as in the early days of the child abuse cases first being mentioned, the same media did not want to know. Take this headline from the Guardian way back in 2018: “Manchester City ‘ignored warnings’ and kept Barry Bennell in youth set-up.” There were multiple headlines like that at the time.
And yet there is still a flaw in the way football clubs in England handle young people that is completely appalling and shocking. When the Bennell case was revealed every aspect of professional football club in England involving children should have been considered and reformed. It wasn’t.
Football clubs still deal directly with children who are besotted by the notion of becoming football stars. Of course the parents are involved but fundamentally it is the club making decisions, AND THE CLUB KEEPING ALL THE RECORDS.
As the Bennell case revealed, there were no records showing who was dealing with whom, so no one knew who did what.
And we might expect that by now, years after Bennell was locked up, the system would be changed. All club dealings with youngsters should be recorded in writing, with duplicate copies kept OFF SITE, WITH A THIRD PARTY
And yet, no. Records are supposedly being kept of which children are in the club, how they are training, if they are injured etc, but … there are no duplicates. If a court case blows up and the court wants to see the records the club can say, “Sorry we’ve lost them”. And that’s that. Evidence gone, the club is free to carry on.
In short, a fundamental point of the Bennell case, that because clubs deal with children, there should be proper and duplicate record keeping of all dealings with children and teenagers (obviously including injuries). And yet that isn’t the case at all. An utterly fundamental point has not be learned, and clubs are still getting away with doing anything they like in any way they like knowing that they will always be able to use the simple get out in a subsequent investigation: “We’ve lost the records.”
So supposing a club does not look after a young player as well as it ought, and the player is injured mentally or physically, and then needs treatment, The only records of the event are still those held by the club. That is to say, the accused party holds all the records.
So what is the club going to do if a parent comes along and says, “My son was injured, and you didn’t give him the proper treatment or proper recovery time.” It is as likely as not to say, “I’m sorry we don’t have the medical records for that young player. They seem to have gone missing.”
Now I am not saying that the abuse of a young player by not giving him proper treatment when injured is equal to what Bennell and others did. But it can still be life-changing if an injury is not properly dealt with.
And in a powerful, rich industry like football, where the cases of child sex abuse have become infamous, surely it would be the simplest thing in the world for the rule to be made that all clubs keep the records in duplicate with the second copy given to the FA for filing, and failure to do this will mean being thrown out of the league.
So we might wonder, “That is so simple, how can it possibly be that it is not happening?” And then we might recall that Barry Bennell was allowed to get away with child sex abuse on an industrial scale for decades, and no one noticed.
Maybe the child sex abuse cases have been cleared up now, but we should remember this. The establishment (ie the FA, the League and the clubs) that allowed this to go on under their noses for years, is the same establishment in charge of football today. The moment the Bennell case and others became known, the League and the FA should have looked at everything to do with children playing for league clubs and tightened up every single regulation, with copies of documentation held by separate organisations at separate addresses.
The fact this was not done speaks volumes about those organisations and how much they really care about young people.
And remember: these same organisations that failed to deal with the sex abuse cases are still out there running the show.
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