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Sex abuse footballers 'want to be free of pain'

Steve Walters with Andy Woodward at the launch of the Offside Trust Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Andy Woodward (R) and Steve Walters (L) are two of the players behind the Offside Trust

Three ex-footballers who came forward to say they were sexually abused as children have called for the sport to back an independent trust that will "fight for justice".

The Offside Trust is fronted by former Crewe Alexandra players Andy Woodward and Steve Walters, and ex-Manchester City youth player Chris Unsworth.

Woodward said: "We have all been through it and we just want justice."

He said he wanted to help other victims and "for us to be free from the pain".

Mr Woodward, Mr Walters and Mr Unsworth gave up their right to anonymity last month to speak about abuse in football, prompting more people to come forward.

A total of 450 people have alleged they are victims and 55 amateur and professional football clubs are linked to allegations of abuse going back several decades.

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The Offside Trust aims to create a support network for players who have suffered abuse and their families.

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Media captionAndy Woodward: "We shouldn't have to suffer like we have done"

At its launch on Monday, Mr Woodward, who was the first to come forward to speak about abuse by a former coach, told a news conference: "We do want justice because we all suffered a terrible ordeal.

"We want to move forward so we can protect the children suffering right now... we just want to help people. That's it."

Warning letter

Meanwhile, it has emerged that football clubs were officially warned in 1989 about ex-Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins, who is facing historical abuse allegations.

A letter, seen by the BBC, from the Football League to its member clubs, said it, the Football Association and English Schools' Football Association were "opposed to the activities" of the Bob Higgins Soccer Academy, but did not provide any details.

Mr Higgins, who has previously denied any wrongdoing, was cleared of sexual abuse charges in 1992, but faces fresh allegations.

The BBC has been unable to contact him for comment.

Coach sacked

Elsewhere, Rangers Football Club has confirmed a former youth coach was sacked following an allegation of inappropriate behaviour towards a teenage player.

Gordon Neely, who died two years ago, was a youth coach at the Glasgow club in the 1980s when police were contacted over the claims made by the player. The club said he had been "dismissed immediately".

Dyfed Powys Police has become the latest police force to announce an investigation into abuse allegations and there are now 20 forces looking into reports, including three of the four Welsh forces.


The numbers so far

Image copyright Thinkstock
  • There are 450 alleged victims
  • A total of 20 police forces are investigating
  • Greater Manchester Police has said it has identified 10 suspects
  • There are 55 amateur and professional football clubs linked to allegations of abuse
  • The NSPCC says it received 860 calls to its dedicated football hotline in a week
  • Within the hotline's first three days, the organisation made more than 60 referrals to a range of UK agencies

The Offside Trust says it is open to working with other sports and schools in the long term.

On speaking out, an emotional Steve Walters said on Monday: "It's the best thing I have ever done now.

"I have carried a 100 ton weight on my back for years and years and that's gone now - there is a light at the end of the tunnel."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Walters said there was a "light at the end of the tunnel" for him

Mr Walters called on more high-profile players to back their campaign.

"It's happening everywhere down the years," he said. "The bravado in football has to stop.

"We need more help, publicity and support from high-profile sports people."

On Sunday, FA head of equality and safeguarding Sue Ravenlaw told BBC Radio 5 live that the scale of the historical abuse allegations was the biggest challenge for the FA, alongside reassuring young people that football is safer today.

Pointing to the safeguarding regulations that have been in place over the past 10 to 15 years, she said: "I would like to think the culture has changed."

However, she said the scale of the abuse allegations was a "massive wake-up call" for club owners and directors to do the right thing at every level.

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