Former football pros join forces to warn parents and coaches about signs of abuse | UK News
Two men who were sexually abused as young footballers are helping a football association to improve protection for future players.
Paul Stewart, a former Tottenham and Liverpool player, and former Manchester City player David White are working with Liverpool County Football Association.
There are around 900 clubs in the Liverpool area and many of them are the size of a school in terms of numbers but they rely on volunteers with fewer formal procedures.
Through their organisation SAVE (Safeguarding and Victim Engagement), Mr Stewart and Mr White are educating coaches and parents to spot the signs of grooming or abuse.
Awareness is improving but children in this environment can still be very vulnerable and, in the age of social media and mobile phones, a child can be groomed in a matter of hours.
Gordon Johnson, the welfare officer for LCFA, told Sky News: “There are still predators out there… We don’t publicise it, we just try and make it safe for the kids and keep [abusers] away from football.
“[The problem has] not gone away.
“In the last two months I know of two football coaches who have received custodial prison sentences in the Liverpool area.
“They had actually gone through safeguarding checks but they were caught outside of football.”
Mr Stewart and Mr White were among the first players to speak publicly about sexual abuse they experienced as children at the hands of their youth coaches.
Both men were just 11 years old when their abuse began and they kept it secret for decades to protect their parents.
It took Mr Stewart 42 years to tell anyone that youth coach Frank Roper had physically and sexually abused him on a daily basis for four years.
Roper died in 2005 before he could be prosecuted.
Mr Stewart said that the years after he revealed his experience had been tough and had caused his parents a lot of pain.
“I had to weigh up the rest of my life compared to giving them the devastating blow of what happened to me particularly because the coach was invited into our home.
“I do regret it… I try to say it wasn’t your fault but you just know that they’re thinking: ‘I should have protected my son. I should have seen the signs’.”
My dad would have driven me to the other side of the world to sort out a physical injury but what I really needed him for I couldn’t tell him about.
Mr White was sexually abused by youth coach Barry Bennell in the late 70s and early 80s. Bennell, described by a judge as “the devil incarnate”, was jailed last year for 31 years on 50 counts of child abuse relating to 12 boys aged between 8 and 14.
He said: “My dad would have driven me to the other side of the world to sort out a physical injury but what I really needed him for I couldn’t tell him about.”
Both Mr Stewart and Mr White said they often wonder where their careers might have taken them had it not been for the abuse.
But working in safeguarding has proved cathartic in helping them deal with their trauma.
“I don’t want to be sitting here in 30 years’ time and see the same glutton of sports individuals come out because we’ve missed the opportunity to get it right from now,” Mr Stewart said.
Through SAVE, the former players are hoping to roll out their programme nationally across all youth sport. They’ve received National Lottery funding from Sport England to pilot their Excellence in Safeguarding Training programme.
In a statement the Football Association told Sky News: “We are supporting the development of the pilot and hope that it proves to add real value to the existing work grassroots clubs currently do.
“The FA is also funding an evaluation programme to ensure we learn from SAVE’s work.”