By Tony Attwood
I guess like most people, especially like most people who have children of their own, the notion of child abuse is ultimately incomprehensible to me. But it is there, and it has deeply entrenched itself within British society, and thus also within football.
And from the off I have been extremely uncomfortable with the notion that the FA is at the heart of the investigation into child abuse in football. I can’t think of an organisation less likely to be able to deal with the issue than the old boys club that happily work in secret with the discredited Fifa within an organisation that is endlessly revealed as being unable to do anything about anything, except try to protect itself from scandals. And it is pretty hopeless at doing that.
Indeed I have become ever more suspicious when it comes to the silence that has been surrounding the FA’s investigations into child abuse.
It turns out that something fairly awful has been going on, but no one has been writing about it – at least not until Daniel Taylor turned up with an article in the Guardian, which uncovered something pretty awful.
Mr Taylor has raised in public something that until his article appeared was only being whispered about: the way the FA was trying to “ingratiate itself with some of the people who have been lost and brutalised in the system and who, presumably, might have damaging things to say about the way the sport is run.”
So the FA have been engaged in what Mr Taylor calls “Gestures of goodwill” such as the “offer of an expensive hotel, tickets for an England game, the keys to an executive box at Wembley”. Does that sound suspicious?
As he continues, “The FA says it is to build and, in some cases, repair relationships.” Another word for this sort of approach is ‘Sweeteners’.”
The point is the FA is investigating the most horrific corruption that took place within football, during an era in which the FA was in control of football, and either was blissfully unaware, or did nothing. Either explanation should be enough for the government to start its own investigation into the FA.
And as Mr Taylor says, “What the FA needs to understand, perhaps, is that the people who have suffered in silence all those years are not going to be won over with freebies. They want to be heard and, more than anything, they want to be able to trust what they hear back, without the sense that it is merely lip service or that [Greg] Clarke [the chair of the FA], for one, might not actually go through with what he says.”
Clarke is a man who always talks about transparency and the importance of it. But transparency is exactly what he does not deliver. The Guardian, in an earlier piece pointed out that eight professional clubs had effectively refused to co-operate with the enquiry into child sex abuse in football. Only after the story had been run in the paper did those clubs – whose cover was about to be blown – become actively involved in providing any information.
But the FA is now protecting those clubs, refusing to say which clubs they were. And let’s be clear these are professional football clubs faced with demands from their industry association for information, who absolutely and totally refused to co-operate. Not only that, but until the Guardian article, the FA refused even to acknowledge this refusal to co-operate was happening. They still won’t tell us which clubs they were.
So much for transparency. As Mr Taylor says elsewhere, this “feels more like an attempt to hush everything up, which is precisely what the FA promised it would not do.”
Apparently the Guardian has continued to press for explanations but none is forthcoming. The FA has clammed up, despite the fact that on 29 November last year, Clarke at the FA said, the FA would “bring information to the public domain as quickly as possible”.
What we actually found out was that Dario Gradi at Crewe was suspended from all football activities, and the FA had even tried to keep that quiet.
Maybe the FA doesn’t realise that with 252 suspects named as being involved in child sex abuse within football clubs, with 311 clubs cited and 1,432 referrals to Operation Hydrant (the co-ordinators of information into non-recent child abuse investigations by people of public prominence) by mid April, some of us might be expecting to be hearing a bit more.
Now Operation Hydrant was set up when it became apparent that Police Forces around the country were investigating a significant number of non-recent allegations of sexual abuse involving persons of public prominence or within institutions. There was a risk that investigators were looking at the same individuals and institutions and it was also clear that officers dealing with these complex cases required support and guidance.
I can appreciate why we don’t hear from Operation Hydrant directly, but there is still no good reason for the FA not to be telling us what is going on.
Sadly this is what the FA do. They close ranks and close the doors. And while I would be the first to say that their inability to spend money given to them by Sport England in a proper way (resulting in Sport England demanding it back) is not in the slightest bit as important as the child sex abuse issue, it is symptomatic of the FA and how it operates.
Why is our government allowing the FA to be handling this enquiry into its own inability to deal with this matter in the past? I would really like to know.
In 1997 Channel 4 ran a documentary about sexual abuse within football, which Daniel Taylor refers back to in his article. As he said, the situation then “was summed up by the moment the Dispatches reporter Deborah Davies approached the FA’s then director of coaching and education, Charles Hughes, outside its old headquarters in Lancaster Gate. Davies wanted to know whether the FA should bring in rules to protect children and prevent football being a place where paedophiles had easy access. Hughes did not even break stride, marching past as if she didn’t exist.”
The FA, may I remind you yet again, is part funded by the state, which gets its money from taxpayers in the UK. People like me and perhaps you. We are in part paying for the FA through our taxes, just as we are when we go to FA Cup matches.
As the Guardian article points out, it would be good to find out why the FA withdrew its funds from a five-year study into child-protection policies in 2003, and instead used the money to give Sven-Goran Eriksson a £1m-a-year pay rise and pay for the building of the new Wembley.
We have long known that 10 of the 14 members of the FA staff either refused to give information to that investigation, or were prevented from doing so. That alone should be enough reason for the FA not to be handling this enquiry into historical child sex abuse.
Is it too much to ask that the Metropolitan Police should be investigating the role of the FA in matters relating to child sex abuse? At the very least there is a case to answer in relation to their hampering of the investigations.
When all this is over and there is a report to be issued, someone at the FA will decide how much of that report is suitable for public dissemination. How much would you bet that all the bits that show the FA as being implicated in a series of cover ups are removed from the report?
There is one body that could bring the FA to heel: the UK government. There is another collection of organisations who could do it – the professional football clubs in England.
Someone with the power to do so, needs to step up to the mark and start dealing with this.
- The Big 7 clubs, how much they spent and what good is it doing?
- What the media won’t tell you about football 5: Fifa lends money to Switzerland
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 4 – referee variations
- The final transfer rumours: 3 new names to make 66 players tipped for Arsenal
- What the media won’t tell you about football, part 3 – referee home bias