Football coach sex abuse revelations may be 'tip of the iceberg', says PFA

Hundreds of former players may have been victims of sexual abuse at football clubs in the 1980s and 1990s, the Professional Footballers' Association have said

Professional Footballers Association

Image: Tony Marshall / EMPICS Sport

Hundreds of former players may have been victims of sexual abuse at football clubs in the 1980s and 1990s, the Professional Footballers' Association have said.

Michael Bennett, head of player welfare at the PFA, says the organisation has set up a "triage service" to help players who had been abused by Barry Bennell, a coach who worked with clubs including Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City before his conviction for multiple cases of sexual assault in 1998.

"In regards to the amount of people that have come forward in a short space of time, it makes me feel that this is the tip of the iceberg," he told Sky.

"So I personally feel this has been going on, people have suffered alone in silence for years, and I think the catalyst being Andy (Woodward) coming forward has given others the confidence to come forward themselves and I think we'll find a number of players, former members, will start to come forward.

"We've kind of got a triage service in place now where we triage them to make sure that they get the relevant support that they need in the situation they're faced with.

"If you are a young player who doesn't make it as a professional, falls out of the game at 18, your membership will have been paid by yourself or the football club.

"And that makes you a member to access all the benefits that a member who had a 20-year career can access, so yeah they are members for life.

"From the numbers that have come forward in the last couple of days - I think it's 11 now - I think it could be... in the hundreds."

Former Manchester City striker David White was the second former England footballer to speak publicly about sexual abuse claims against Bennell.

And he is the fourth professional player to speak out in the last week, after former Crewe Alexandra player Andy Woodward gave a harrowing account to The Guardian of abuse he says was perpetrated by Bennell.

Mr Woodward's testimony prompted former teammate Steve Walters to speak out with his own claims against Bennell.

They were followed by former Tottenham and England forward Paul Stewart, who on Tuesday told the Daily Mirror that he had been abused for four years by an unnamed coach.

In a statement Mr White, who is writing a book about his experiences, said: "Given recent press stories I wish to confirm that I was sexually abused by my former football coach Barry Bennell in the late 1970s and early 1980s - this abuse took place while I was attached to the Whitehill FC Junior team based in Manchester."

In 1998, Bennell received a nine-year sentence after admitting 23 specimen charges of sexual offences, including buggery, against six boys aged nine to 15.

He had been arrested when he was deported to England following a four-year prison sentence in Florida for raping and indecently assaulting a 13-year-old British boy while on a football tour.

Bennell was convicted for a third time for sexual abuse in 2015 and received a two-year sentence. He is reported to have been released on licence.

Mr Woodward's initial interview has given abuse victims the courage to speak out.

He told Sky News: "It's so tragic to say this and it's so sad really, because football is the most beautiful game in the world. I mean out there there are so many wonderful coaches, and they're absolutely fantastic.

"But there have been some evil coaches within football and I do believe it's going to be something really big in terms of how many people have suffered."

The National Association for People Abused in Childhood said it has recorded a spike in calls from men, who usually make up only 20% of callers to its helplines.

The Football Association has established a helpline, supported by the NSPCC, to make it easier for people to come forward in future.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, you can contact 'One in Four', a charity providing support and resources for people who have experienced sexual abuse and violence in Ireland.

  • Call on 01 6624070, Monday – Friday 9.30 to 5.30pm 
  • Email using info@oneinfour.ie
  • Send a letter to 2 Holles St, Dublin 2, D02 FP40