By Tony Attwood
If you don’t live in the UK there is a chance you might not be aware of the issue that is starting to engulf English football. If you do live in the UK, then I imagine you can’t but know – but I hope you will allow me a moment to recap.
In recent years the UK has been swamped with details of a huge number of child sexual exploitation cases. They range from the cases of a single man such as Jimmy Saville, the BBC personality, to vast gangs of men in Rotherham in South Yorkshire where child exploitation existed on a massive scale for years. In the Young case it then emerged that the exploitation of young people within the music business in general and within the BBC in particular, among its mostly freelance employees, was widespread. In different cases Jonathan King and the pop singer Paul Gadd better known as Gary Glitter, plus the entertainer Rolf Harris and many more were all convicted of sexual offences and imprisoned.
Those are just a few examples, and they are made even more horrific and distressing by the fact that they generally seem to reveal that huge numbers of people knew what was going on, and yet did nothing. Perhaps the worst example was the fact that even after much of the information was made public in Rotherham, a year or so later the local council, under whose noses the whole appalling affair had been continuing, had still done nothing. The same people who had supposedly been running the area were still debating what they might do. The government then wound the council up as unfit for purpose.
There are multiple other examples across the UK, and I won’t take up your time recounting these – they are all a matter of public record.
But I do write about it today because we now have evidence growing daily of sexual exploitation of young men in football.
The awareness of this case started after two former players at Crewe Alexandra spoke of the abuse they suffered at the hands of the serial paedophile Barry Bennell while with the club in the 1980s.
Bennell was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1998 after admitting 23 specimen charges of sexual offences against six boys aged nine to 15, with another 22 offences left on file. He previously served a four-year sentence in Florida for offences against a boy and was jailed again for two years in May 2015 for molesting a 12 year-old in Macclesfield in 1980.
Subsequently more players have come forwards and a former Newcastle United player told police he had been molested by a paedophile coach. Then two more ex-Crewe players admitted they had been abused.
And we have just been told that Manchester City has launched an investigation into links between Bennell and the club. Meanwhile Crewe Alexandra’s most famous employee, ex-manager and director of football, Dario Gradi, denied any knowledge that his long-time colleague with whom he had worked very closely over many years had raped young players. The number of players to have contacted Cheshire Police is now 11 but is expected to grow.
In all these cases that have been revealed one thing seems to be consistent: that large numbers of people knew about what was going on, but did nothing thus allowing the predators to continue.
I have no idea if what has been revealed over the years within the individual cities such as Rotherham, within the entertainment industry, and now within football, exists in other cities and other industries, but it would seem likely. I have no idea if what we are finding out exists in other countries also; maybe it is just a British thing. Maybe just an English thing.
But what is so utterly desperate in all this is that the one factor that seems to link everything together is the simple notion of “cover up”.
For example in the Rotherham case the cover-up included the theft of documents from a council researcher’s office, and this cover up became a major part of the government report on the case, in October 2014. Now it seems that there really has been a determined attempt to say nothing about the Crewe Alexandra case until recently.
But then I have to think, supposing I were working in an environment in which there were occasional whispers about colleagues and their attitudes towards young people. What would I do?
And then worse, I suddenly remembered that at the start of my working career, (which was a very long time ago) when I was trying to make my way as young writer while earning my crust by teaching in a school in London, I did indeed hear dark rumours about one male teacher in the school. The stories lacked detail as I recall and were just gossip in the pub, and no one, that I remember had any actual facts, but yes I heard such stories. And did nothing, not (and I really hope my memory is right here) because I didn’t want to do the right thing, but because I simply had no idea how to.
I have no ideas whether such stories were true. I can’t remember the name of the teacher concerned, nor what he taught. He wasn’t someone I came across in the course of my daily work in the school, I was in my early 20s and he was older, and I was only at the school for a short while, and so the memory is very vague – little more than a bit of pub chat.
But it makes me think: I guess that is how it goes. Today, if I heard a rumour, I hope I would urge the individual to go to the police. If I had the information, that is what I would do. But perhaps with little hope of anything much happening, for today the headlines in the Guardian include “Met police heavily criticised over child protection failings” and “Former abuse inquiry lawyer calls for clarity on alleged sexual assault – Hugh Davies QC says inquiry leadership must explain publicly how it responded to allegations involving former lead counsel.”