The ‘true scale of historic racial abuse against boys in football’ must be fully investigated in light of a number of players coming forward as adults to speak of the impact it had on their careers and lives, a solicitor has said.
Renu Daly, a specialist in supporting victims of abuse at Hudgell Solicitors, confirmed today that notice of legal action has been served to Chelsea Football Club on behalf of another youth team player.
The case relates to a former player who says he suffered continued racial abuse from the age of 13 to 19, firstly as a youth team player, then when an apprentice and even as a professional at the club in the 1980s, by a coach.
The legal notice served on Chelsea alleges breach of duty and abuse, saying the club failed to protect the player (a minor for the majority of time) from being subjected and exposed to repeated and disturbing racial abuse for a period of six years.
It also alleges 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.
Hudgell Solicitors has received a response from Chelsea Football Club’s legal counsel following serving notice of the intended legal action. It states:
“We will forward the letter to the club’s external solicitors and you will receive a formal response in due course. However, in the meantime, I want to make clear that Chelsea FC takes all allegations of this nature seriously. Please note that we will refer this matter to the statutory authorities and The FA/Premier League.
“Your client may be aware that support is available for former players through Sporting Chance.”
In a statement to the Guardian newspaper this evening, which has covered the allegations being made by the former player today, it added: “We are absolutely determined to do the right thing, to fully support those affected, assist the authorities and support their investigations.”
The Guardian has also approached former Chelsea youth team coach Gwyn Williams for comment on the matter. His solicitor said he would be making no comment.
Player claims abuse led to him feeling ‘physically sick’ and quitting football
The former player, now 51, says he walked away from his ‘dream career’ having only recently signed as a professional, as the racial abuse made him feel ‘physically sick’ and unable to return.
He said: “To this day, I feel I was denied my dream to play professional football, and I am certain there will have been many more like me – young boys who were targeted and had their self-confidence and self-worth destroyed.
“By the time I left, I couldn’t even bring myself to kick a ball, and I’d been a talented kid who had been told I would have gone far in the game.
“I’ve never been back to Stamford Bridge since the day I left, I avoid the area. It’s even hard seeing them playing on TV now, even though it’s changed so much and its different people. It’s all too painful memories for me.
“There was a racist culture at the club, and in football back then I guess. I hope others come forward now too, and not just from Chelsea, but from any other clubs where it happened too. I am 100 per cent certain it happened to many young black kids in the early 80s. We were easy targets with no support or help.”
“There’s no debate as to whether it was acceptable in the 80s – it is beyond belief to suggest it was’
Ms Daly says greater investigation into the wider implications of alleged racial abuse in football in the early 80s and over the following decade is now needed, saying any attempts to justify it as something that happened and was accepted in many walks of life more than 30 years ago as ‘totally unacceptable.’
She also says the matter must not be one which clubs themselves look to pin on ‘rogue individuals’, saying football clubs, and The Football Association must accept their responsibilities to protect young players in the game not only today, but in years gone by.
“It is absolutely infuriating and appalling that people talk about the racial abuse young football players suffered in the late 70s and throughout the 80s as if it is what happened and was accepted in the day,” said Ms Daly.
“Let’s be clear, it wasn’t just limited to the terraces, where players suffered awful abuse. There have been a number of men come forward now and say they were racially abused as young boys when trying to make a career in football, including my client.
“The issue of racial abuse of young people back in the 80s is not one open to dispute as to whether it was acceptable or not – let’s draw a line under that one immediately. It is beyond belief that anybody would simply say the world has changed and that it was part and parcel of football back then.
“We are talking about alleged, long-term racial discrimination and bullying by adults in positions of authority against young boys. That was not commonplace in society back then.
“Who is responsible for racism in football? Was it society? No. Did young back children get routinely racially abused by their teachers at school? Was racism common against black cricketers or even young black girls at gymnastics? The answer is no. I know I wasn’t racially abused as a young girl at school and clubs by adults. Football has serious questions to answer.
“Football clubs are responsible today – and always were in the past – for the actions of their staff, including with youth teams.
Legal papers served on Chelsea alleging failure to protect 13-year old from racial abuse
Impact on the former youth player’s life is set out in the legal paperwork, clearly stating it severely impacted on his confidence and self-respect, causing him to be unable to attend and his contract being terminated shortly after turning professional at the age of 18.
It says the player was ‘deprived of a career as a professional footballer’, and that the abuse and loss of his career caused the player to suffer from depression, impacting on his future personal relationships and employment.
“Our client has been damaged for life and it has taken him 30 years to speak out,” added Ms Daly.
“He was a child. Even to this day, when he talks about it, the emotional impact on him is clearly visible, even though he tries to be strong. Both he and others who have come forward have talked about there being a ‘culture of racist abuse’ in football.
“We know how damaging racial abuse can be between adults. Imagine being a young, 13-year-old boy being subjected to daily racial abuse and humiliation by a grown man in a position of power.
“Our client is urging anyone who feels they went through similar experiences to come forward and speak out. Don’t accept it as something which happened back in the day. It is unacceptable now, and the reality is people knew it was unacceptable then.
“Football has a duty to examine the true scale of historic racial abuse against boys in football and the impact on the lives of potentially hundreds, if not thousands of young people.
“It can’t brush claims of a ‘racist culture’ under the carpet, to do so would be to let these people down once again.”