Four former English football players have accused a convicted serial child abuser of molesting them in the 1970s when he was a coach and talent scout, according to reports this week in the British press.
The accusations against Barry Bennell mirror other examples of adults in positions of trust with children using their roles to prey on vulnerable youth; from widespread evidence of sexual assault by Catholic priests and, in American football, Jerry Sandusky, a coach who raped multiple children at a university summer camp. The consequences for survivors of child abuse is the same: depression, drug addiction and, sometimes, suicide.
"My life has been ruined until the age of 43, but how many others are there?" footballer Andy Woodward told the Guardian. "I'm talking about hundreds of children who Barry Bennell cherry-picked for various football teams and who now, as adults, might still be living with that awful fear."
The other footballers who came forward are David White, Steve Walters and Paul Stewart. All four former players achieved successful carriers playing in teams such as Manchester City, City, Leeds and Sheffield United in the UK.
England's Football Association has set up a helpline for former players to report abuse, receiving 50 calls during its first two hours on Thursday.
"Given recent press stories I wish to confirm that I was sexually abused by my former football coach Barry Bennell in the late 70s and early 80s," White, who earned an England cap in 1992 said in a statement on BBC.
"For a number of reasons and for nearly two decades I kept my ordeal secret from my family and friends," he added.
Stewart, who played for Manchester City, Liverpool and other teams, stated that he was sexually abused by his coach, whose name he did not reveal, for four years.
“The mental scars led me into other problems with drink and drugs," Stewart told the Daily Mirror. He said that his abuser threatened to kill his family if he revealed the sexual assault.
Stewart found the courage to come forward with his story after Woodward told The Guardian he had suffered years of abuse by Bennell while playing for the Crewe Alexandra team. Cheshire police are investigating the accusations. The law enforcement agency said 11 people had come forward seeking to speak to authorities about abuse after Woodward’s revelation.
In a joint statement, the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League described Woodward's story as "heartbreaking" and praised his "immense courage".
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of British players' union the Professional Footballers' Association, said his organisation had also been contacted by victims of child abuse.
"Because of Woodward's bravery, many other ex-players and apprentices are now contacting us -- it is double figures now," Taylor told Britain's Press Association. "And that is a timely warning for everybody in football about our duty of care to these youngsters."
- The NSPCC’s helpline is 0808 800 5000 or Child Line for children and young people can be contacted on 0800 1111.
- NAPAC, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, can be contacted on 0808 801 0331.