Offside Trust Sex abuse scandal is global problem says independent body

The Offside Trust was launched in Manchester on Monday and will work separately to support victims of abuse.

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Ex-footballer Andy Woodward photographed in Manchester on December 5, 2016 play

Ex-footballer Andy Woodward photographed in Manchester on December 5, 2016

(AFP)
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An independent body set up by former footballers to help victims of child abuse in the sport claimed the issue is a "global" problem as they urged clubs to support the fight for justice.

The Offside Trust was launched in Manchester on Monday and will work separately from the Football Association and Professional Footballers' Association to support victims of abuse.

It was formed by Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Chris Unsworth who all suffered sexual abuse while they were youth team players.

A fortnight ago Woodward, 43, waived his anonymity to reveal he was abused at Crewe by coach, scout and serial paedophile Barry Bennell in the 1980s.

Since Woodward came forward the FA have launched an enquiry while 18 police forces in the UK have begun investigations.

A special hotline setup by The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) received 860 calls in the space of a week, with allegations spanning four decades.

Steve Walters, one of the founders of The Offside Trust, photographed in Manchester on December 5, 2016 play

Steve Walters, one of the founders of The Offside Trust, photographed in Manchester on December 5, 2016

(AFP)

Woodward claimed at a press conference at Offside Trust's launch that there are likely to be victims of sexual abuse all around the world.

"This isn't just in this country. It's global," Woodward said. "I personally know in the United States there are certain things which have potentially happened there.

"It's just about reaching out to everyone and reaching out to the global side of things."

So far 20 former players have spoken out about abuse while in excess of 50 different clubs in the UK have been linked to claims of abuse.

FA chairman Greg Clarke recently acknowledged the scandal is one of the biggest crises that the governing body has faced.

Woodward admitted he did not know if there had been attempts to hush up cases of sexual abuse but hoped the newly formed body will be able to assist with therapy for victims.

'Disgusting and upsetting'

On Sunday, Chelsea "apologised profusely" to Gary Johnson, who was sexually abused at the club in the 1970s.

In a statement the club said Johnson had "suffered unacceptably" while a youth team player.

However, Walters revealed that neither he nor Woodward have been contacted by Crewe since they decided to come forward.

"We've not even had an apology from the football club we were at. Which is in our opinion disgusting and upsetting," Walters said.

"Fair play to Chelsea, it is too little, too late, but they have put their apology out there in a sincere manner. Crewe, there's been nothing. Head in the sand. Let us suffer all our lives.

"There's so many more. I'm getting phone calls every day off players who I've grown up with, there are so many. You won't believe how many are still to come out, honestly."

Edward Smethurst, the managing director of Prosperity Law, whose firm is supporting the Offside Trust on a pro bono basis, claimed there are still individuals in the game who need further investigation.

When asked by reporters about a former youth coach from a leading club who remained in the game until recently despite warnings about his behaviour, Smethurst said: "It's not a surprise.

"There are absolutely people, involved in the game today, who victims have spoken to me about. I can't comment until further investigation, but they certainly need further investigation."

It also emerged on Monday Scottish giants Rangers had sacked Gordon Neely, a youth coach, when in the 1980's he was accused of inappropriate behaviour with a teenage player.

Neely, who worked for Rangers for three years after leaving rivals Hibernian in 1986, died aged 62 in 2014.

"Rangers is now aware of an alleged incident involving an individual who worked very briefly for the club more than 25 years ago," read a statement from the club.

"It's understood the individual was dismissed immediately and that the police were informed."

Hibernian for their part said they would co-operate with an investigation if one was launched.

Police Scotland confirmed last week it had received reports in relation to historic child abuse.

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