Solicitors representing former Chelsea FC youth players who allege they were racially abused by coaches in the 80s and 90s have welcomed the club’s move to appoint children’s charity Barnado’s to carry out an independent review.
Players have been contacted by safeguarding officials at the charity in the wake of legal action being launched against the club.
The charity says it has been instructed by the club to conduct ‘an independent review into allegations of non-recent racial abuse at the club’.
It says the review will be ‘independent from, but undertaken in cooperation with the police and local authorities.
It says the remit of the review will be to;
- Gather information about cases of non-recent racial abuse against former youth players which have been made known to the Club,
- Look at how the club handled these matters, to compare the environment in which these alleged incidents occurred against the environment which exists at the club today.
- Provide a robust report that will assist the club in its aim of reviewing how it handled cases of alleged racial abuse in the past and to obtain recommendations as to how its current procedures and practice can be improved in future.
- Make recommendations – freely and independently formed – to the club for the future and to explore how it may provide support to victims.
A total of nine players have now come forward to make allegations of being racially abused as youth team players and apprentices in the 80s and 90s. Players have claimed they were separated into ‘blacks against whites’ at training sessions, taunted with racist jibes and remarks so often that it was ‘the norm’.
Some say they feel they were denied an opportunity to progress their careers, and one has told how the impact on him was so bad he quit as a professional aged 18 and has never since been back to the club.
As part of the review, Barnado’s is offering ‘support and welfare’ to the players, saying it is a chance to ‘discuss the effect that any alleged abuse has had’ and ‘whether there are any ways that the Club can provide resolution or support.’
Solicitor welcomes review but says it must overcome ‘football’s hold’ on players
Solicitor Renu Daly, of Hudgell Solicitors, who has been instructed by four former youth team players, has welcomed the move.
She says the former players she represents hope it will ‘delve deeply into the culture and environment at Chelsea in the 80s and early 90s’, saying the charity may face obstacles when looking to get people to speak openly.
“My clients certainly welcome this move by Chelsea and hope it is a clear sign that they will be listened to and that the impact of what happened to them as young and vulnerable children and young adults will be considered,” she said.
“However, this will never be a case where everybody who witnessed racism will easily come forward and speak. From the moment I started speaking to former players about this case I have been saddened and shocked by the hold football has had on people’s lives, not only back in the 80s, but long term and to this day.
“The people who have spoken out have made clear breaks from the game for some years. There can be no repercussions for speaking about what happened to them and it is why they have felt able to do so.
“Others who have told me they suffered racial abuse as children, and know of others who would like to speak out, will simply not put their name on a legal document or investigation despite the hurt they feel, because they or somebody close to them is still involved in the game.
“It may be a former player who now has a relative doing what they were three decades ago and playing through the youth teams with the dream of making it to the top, or somebody who still has a role with a club. They fear speaking out will impact on their lives or the lives of their families now. That is sad, but also understandable on their part.
“The money in football these days makes it all the more difficult for people to come forward. There is so much to lose for some. I have spoken at length to some former players who simply don’t feel it is an option for them.
“Football clearly still has a hold over people, and that will impact on all investigations which attempt to scratch under the surface.
“These players have said they never challenged what happened to them because they feared being cast as trouble makers and cut out of the game. It is clear that fear remains today. There is not a freedom to speak and that is worrying in any environment.
“Hopefully this review can break through this. It appears a clear message from Chelsea that they want answers, and they have done the right thing in appointing an independent third party. I hope this is something which will make people feel more able to speak openly.”