The recent revelations of child abuse at Crewe Alexandra football club has caused great controversy and dismay throughout the footballing world. But the questions to be asked are, how did the club allow such abuse to happen and what is the way forward as a result? It must be noted that there are other cases of child abuse but the focus will be on this due to it being current in the news today.
Will the floodgates open?
It is important at the outset to briefly explain what exactly happened at Crewe. The situation was ignited when Andy Woodward revealed that he was abused whilst at the football club from the age of 11 to 15 by the former youth team coach Barry Bennell, the BBC stated. This was followed by ##Allegations made by three further football players at the time against Bennell; Steve Walters, Chris Unsworth and Jason Dunford. The consequences of the revelations have been extremely significant. In addition to the fact that more than 100 calls were made to a special hotline for people who wanted to talk about abuse a football clubs, Michael Bennett, head of player welfare at the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) claimed that "the floodgates have been opened" (BBC) as a result of the claims made. The view that there may be many more claims made was claimed also by former Crewe footballer Robbie Savage. He not only stated to the BBC that he was "one of the lucky ones" not to be abused but felt that there could be hundreds more victims of such attacks. This could be the case, Savage stated, because many were "simply too scared to tell someone".
What did those around Bennell know?
However, what made the situation worse was the actions of those around Bennell. One of the many allegations made was whether those around knew of what was going on at the time. Although the former manager Dario Gradi claimed he knew nothing about the alleged assaults, this was refuted by a former director at Crewe; Hamilton Smith. Not only did he claim that the club held "board level talks" about allegations about sexual abuse by Bennell in the 1980s, but as the Daily Mail reported, they "kept him on" despite this. This, Smith claimed, was due to the fact there was not enough evidence to do so.
The first question to ask therefore, is how did the club allow such crimes to happen? Not doing something is sometimes more of a crime than actually doing something. The fact that these boys (at the time) were allowed to be mistreated is in itself a major error. It would no doubt be the case that those who played football under Bennell looked up to him for guidance and assistance. But instead, they were taken advantage of and abused. I find it hard to believe that nobody knew what was going on, especially given the claims made by Smith. There was a massive abuse of the duty of care here. How such actions were not only allowed to happen but also to continue is beyond me. And the fact that many, most now grown men, have not come forward before now, demonstrates the massive ##psychological impact that is still being had all these years later. Taken over by fear, shame and embarrassment, it is the victims of these attacks who have been left to suffer the most.
Where do we go from here?
The second question is, where do we go from here? Unsurprisingly Crewe Alexandra have announced, according to the BBC, that they will hold an independent review into the way they dealt with historical child sex abuse allegations. So too has the Football Association (FA). But going forward there needs to be much greater transparency, greater insight into a football club's employees and greater attention paid to the children themselves. One cannot be forgotten or abused again. Society needs to put pressure on football clubs to not let their children down. They come to play football; not to be ##attacked and mentally scarred for life.