Dark side of beautiful game leads to legal action by players who claim abuse

FOOTBALL - Bill in Wee St Pat's team (back row, right) with Father John Gowans and John McFall, team managerMy own team, Wee St Pat’s, was one of hundreds of school football teams in Dunbartonshire, last century. That is is me in the back row, left.

By Bill Heaney

Dunbartonshire was known as the cradle of Scottish football. It is the place where the beautiful game was born.

Celtic had their roots here with James Kelly of Renton FC and Rangers was, if not actually born on Garelochside, conceived by the great players like Moses McNeil.

Dumbarton FC grew out of shinty at the end of the 19th century and Vale of Leven was one of the leading reams in Scotland at that time. Helensburgh had its own team.

Renton, of course, won the World Cup and Alex Jackson from the village played for Arsenal and was one of the legendary Wembley Wizards who gave England one helluva beating on their own home turf.

Nearly every schoolboy played football in the street and the public parks. Many of them signed for some of the best known football clubs in the country.

There are so many good stories about football that it would take more than just one book to tell them.

But football had its dark side too, which only now, at long last, is being exposed to the light and dealt with.

Child abuse seems to have been one of those problems which dared not speak its name even though it has been apparently commonplace over the past 150 years.

It was probably the same before that and even now it’s bound to be happening, mainly in people’s homes but in youth clubs in churches and schools and in soccer and swimming and rugby clubs.

Once details of these sexual abuse scandals began to emerge, it was clear that Dunbartonshire was no different from anywhere else.

Punters and ex-players in the pubs and clubs began to name names over their Friday night pints and at after-the-match gatherings on a Saturday.

Really brave guys told their old team mates quietly how they were they were abused by some coaches or referees.

And how the victims were told that if they didn’t consent to the predators’ advances, they wouldn’t kick a ball again, never mind chosen for the team they were playing for.

As more and more revelations about this emerged, the football authorities took steps to stop it happening.

But it appears these fell short of what was required. An interim report into child protection within football, published last week, found the policies in Scotland were “not fit for purpose”.

Interviewed by BBC Scotland sports reporter Chris McLaughlin, SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell, maintained that Scottish football was “a safe place for children”.

One day later, however, it was announced that former players who claim to have been abused were “seeking justice”.

The legal action is being pursued through Thompsons Solicitors.

Janine Rennie of the survivors (of sexual abuse) charity, Wellbeing Scotland, said: “The beginning of civil legal proceedings against the Scottish Football Association by survivors is their absolute right and is an important part of them claiming some measure of justice they have long been denied.

“Restitution of this kind is a small part of the journey for these brave people.

“They were disbelieved and ignored by the authorities for years but they are taking back control and now the SFA have admitted their terrible failings.

“I hope they will deal with this matter with decency and transparency.”

McGuire Patrick solicitorSolicitor Patrick McGuire, pictured left, said: “The legal action for compensation that my firm is undertaking on behalf of our clients is part of the process of seeking justice and it’s one that I expect the SFA to take very seriously and settle promptly.”

One former footballer who alleges he was abused said: “The SFA is responsible for making sure that those coaching our children are people we can trust, yet they completely failed me and my family.”

He added: “I now wait to see if their words admitting their failings are backed up by action.

“I sincerely hope that other survivors abused in Scottish football now feel able to come forward to have their voices heard.”

Another person, who claims he was abused, said: “SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell has told the country he believes his organisation’s child protection policies are a success. I have asked him to clarify his statement.

“He has not as yet agreed to this. The hurt his statement caused to myself, my family and other survivors is beyond measure.

“How on earth can they say they haven’t failed children in the past? Mr Maxwell says the SFA wants a world class child safety policy. That should begin with taking care of those it has already failed miserably.”

An SFA spokesman told the BBC: “The review group said football was safe, but said that it could be safer, and we completely accept that.

“We commissioned the review because we wanted to make football better, and we knew that there were things that had to be improved.

“We have increased training for more than 12,000 people working (with children) in football and we are making sure that all our members have their processes in order.”

  • Thompson Solicitors in Glasgow is the company taking legal action on behalf of footballers who claim they were abused.


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