A ‘disturbing picture’ of racism towards young black players at Chelsea FC in the 1980s and early 90s is emerging as more former players come forward to speak out, a solicitor has said.
It comes as five more former youth footballers have come forward to speak of a ‘racist culture’ against black players the club – including two white players who say their teammates were subjected ‘daily’ racial abuse which became ‘the norm’ in the 80s.
It means the total number of players – including the two witnesses Grant Lunn and Gary Baker – alleging racism has now reached nine, with Hudgell Solicitors acting on behalf of four of players whose allegations span a 14 year period.
Representations have already been made and acknowledged by Chelsea in regards to one player who came forward to publicly tell his story in March. Now, similar claims are being drafted on behalf of three more.
These cases follow legal representations being made to Chelsea by three other former youth players in 2017.
Solicitor says ‘disturbing picture’ of racism alleged which had ‘major impact on lives’
“What is clear from speaking to each of these men is that this racial abuse they suffered as children has had a major impact on their lives,” said solicitor Renu Daly.
“They have each handled it differently over the many years that have passed. Some have gone on to stay in football and enjoy careers in the game, others left the sport because of what happened and feel they were denied their chance. They say they were bullied out of football.
“Each of them has been scarred by it in some way to this day. Every former player that has sat in front of me over the past month has spoken about how it has all come back to them, and impacted upon them more as adults than they expected.
“They have each lived with it for many years, but now finally feel they need to stand up and be counted to make sure that Chelsea, and any other football clubs where this happened, hold their hands up and admit it was wrong.
“These men who suffered from racism feared they had nobody to turn to when they were young children hoping for a football career. They have each come forward individually now, having never spoken to one another about it over the years. Collectively now, they have found the voice to speak about what happened.
“We are very grateful that people who were part of these youth teams, and not subjected to abuse, have also come forward to speak in support of their former colleagues. Their only motivation for doing so other is the fact they simply feel is the right thing to do.
“They have nothing to gain, but the fact they have been prepared to come forward and support people they have not seen for many years, speaks volumes as to how serious this matter is.”
Player reveals how Chelsea youngsters were made to play ‘Blacks v Whites’ matches
One of the more recent former Chelsea youth players to come forward revealed how reading the account of a former youth team member in The Guardian in March triggered him to speak out as well.
“When I read the article in the newspaper it all came back to me, and to be honest I was surprised at how much it impacted on me and affected me,” he said.
“I know someone who works with the Samaritans and I had to spend time with someone in a senior role to talk about it. You think you have put it aside after all these years, and perhaps I had, but I found it really tough thinking back.
“The thing is, you only realise now as an adult how bad it was. As a kid you didn’t. We were all a timid bunch who didn’t dare step out of line.”
This former player says constant, more subtle abuse and belittling of black players, was just as damaging as that done openly.
“I can remember that one of our lads was of mixed race, and the coach would be taking training and would organize a game by saying it was ‘whites against blacks’. He’d then look at this lad in front of everybody and say ‘oh, which side are we going to put you on?’ It was all about isolation and humiliation.
“At the end of one season, the captain of our side collected all the votes himself for the Players’ Player of the Year Award, and he told me that I had won it clearly, which obviously I was delighted with. When it was announced though at our awards night, somebody else was given the award.
“It was things like this that made you feel you’d never make it, you’d never be allowed to make it.
“The whole culture and environment around the club though was that you didn’t complain, you didn’t speak out. It was a character test, you had to prove you could be a footballer and that wasn’t about talent, it was about being able to handle this abuse that was thrown at you.”
‘A virile, egotistical environment – Chelsea was a horrible place’
“It was a virile, egotistical environment and the approach was that you had to ‘man up’ and show that you were able to make it in the big bad world of football,” the former youth team player added.
“You knew that if you ‘played up’ you’d be out. We were a great team, we played other top-flight clubs’ youth teams who had players in that went on to become some of the biggest names in English football and top internationals and we wiped the floor with them. But as a bunch of young lads we had our spirit bullied out of us.
“Chelsea was looked at then as it is now by young kids, an amazing place, but the reality is that it wasn’t. It was a horrible place. The amazing thing is that none of us talked about this amongst each other at the time, and we haven’t done over the years since.
“It was only because of how reading those newspaper articles affected me that I felt I should speak out too. A few of us have spoken since and all of us have been affected and carried it. It’s shocking.”
The player says the impact was both short and long term.
“I went to play football abroad after leaving Chelsea in Europe and I have to say the people there, who didn’t see many, if any, black people were brilliant, welcoming and friendly. I was defensive from the start though. If people stared at me I’d be ready for confrontation. It made me defensive about my skin colour and that lasted for many years.”
Ms Daly says she has been shocked and saddened by the scale of racism which took place against boys aged as young as 13, and the lifelong impact it has had.
She has already served legal notice served on Chelsea alleging breach of duty and abuse and failure to protect a minor from being subjected and exposed to repeated and disturbing racial abuse.
It has also been alleged Chelsea failed to take appropriate steps to stop and prevent racism between 1979 until 1985, and failed to make available an individual or separate body to report inappropriate and offensive behavior.
Chelsea FC have replied to legal representation from Hudgell Solicitors to say the club has informed the Football Association and the Premier League, as well as supplying the contact details for the Sporting Chance clinic for any former players who feel they needs counselling.
In a statement released to the Guardian, the club said: “We take allegations of this nature extremely seriously. We are absolutely determined to do the right thing, to fully support those affected, assist the authorities and support their investigations.”
Ms Daly added: “The more I have spoken to former footballers affected the clearer the large scale of this, and the deep impact of it, has become.
“Credit to Chelsea for their stance so far in recognising the seriousness of these allegations, and their commitment to ensuring these allegations are fully investigated. I am sure that has gone a long way to giving these men some confidence they will be listened to now.
“It has even had a profound impact on white players who were part of the youth teams in those days, as even though they were not abused, they witnessed it, and have openly and honestly said that they hadn’t really considered the impact at the time.
“Now when they look back they can see and understand how it could have impacted on these young boys. That is why they have come forward too.”