Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Bob Higgins trial: Accused football coach 'was like social worker'

Bob Higgins
Image caption Bob Higgins denies 51 counts of indecent assault between 1971 and 1996

A football coach accused of sexually abusing trainees has told a court he was like a social worker to the players.

Bob Higgins allegedly molested 24 boys, mostly Southampton and Peterborough United youth players, between 1971 and 1996.

He told jurors boys would stay at his house but there was never any sexual motivation to touch them.

Mr Higgins, 66, denies 51 counts of indecent assault.

He told Bournemouth Crown Court young players stayed at the home he shared with his wife, as they had travelled from different parts of the country to train.

Image copyright Solent News & Photo Agency
Image caption Bob Higgins said players stayed at the home he shared with his wife

Jurors had previously heard complainants accuse Mr Higgins of sexually touching them on the sofa, while watching television, and in his bedroom.

Mr Higgins said trainees would sit next to him in the living room but the only circumstance he would touch them was to "console them" by putting an arm around their shoulders.

Some of the young players suffered with personal problems and would get upset, having witnessed domestic violence at home and experienced bereavements, he told the court.

"Certainly in them days we were [a] social worker - we were everything," Mr Higgins said.

"You took on more of a role supporting them."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Bob Higgins said he had an angry dispute with Dave Merrington (pictured in 1996) during his time at Southampton

Jurors heard Mr Higgins became involved in an angry dispute with a colleague who went on to raise concerns about him.

Mr Higgins, who was youth development officer, fell out with youth team manager Dave Merrington when they were at Southampton FC in the 1980s, the court was told.

The row started when a Mormon apprentice footballer had complained to him about Mr Merrington, it was alleged.

Image caption Mr Higgins is being retried at Bournemouth Crown Court

Mr Higgins said the boy had wanted to leave the club after being told by Mr Merrington, who later became first team manager, to "get drunk and get laid".

He claimed Mr Merrington told him he would make sure he did not work in football again.

He told the court he left the club in 1989 when he was appointed national youth development officer for the Malta Football Association - a job he claimed Mr Merrington also "canvassed for".

Earlier in the trial, Mr Merrington said he had no interest in the Malta job and claimed Mr Higgins left the club after he confronted him about allegations of abuse.

The trial continues.

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