Racial abuse of black players in Chelsea FC’s youth team was ‘the norm’ in the 1980s and something those targeted ‘had to deal with and accept’ – according to white players who were teammates and have come forward to support their allegations.
Grant Lunn and Gary Baker each played for The Blues’ youth teams in the days which are now at the centre of a growing legal investigation into alleged racial abuse of young black players, some aged as young as 13.
Seven players have now instructed lawyers, of Hudgell Solicitors, to act on their behalf to take legal action against Chelsea FC.
Allegations made against the Premier League football club – which has said it is ‘determined to do the right thing’ and will support investigations – include failing to protect children being subjected to the abuse and failing to make available an individual or separate body to report inappropriate and offensive behavior.
Lunn and Baker have come forward to support fellow former youth team members, saying they saw first-hand how they were racially abused in interviews with The Guardian, BBC, ITV and Sky News.
Lunn, a former goalkeeper who went on to play non-league football with teams including Woking and Aldershot after being released at 18, spent after four years at Stamford Bridge as a youth and apprentice.
He said: “As a group of kids, we probably became used to hearing racist terms and insults when we were at the club. One week they’d be only one or two, another day it may happen 10 times. It was the norm,” he said.
“We certainly didn’t realise how wrong it was at the time, and maybe that’s because we weren’t the ones being subjected to racial comments. We perhaps thought it was how football was and that it was all about being strong enough to handle it.
“I can remember how it affected some of the lads. One of my teammates would confide in me and say how he hated the way he was being treated, the names he was called, and the way he was singled out time and again because of his colour.
“Those boys had no support or no way of challenging it. There was nobody else to go to. They had to deal with it and accept it. There was no way anybody else would challenge it on their behalf as their card would have been marked then. It was just the way it was. It wasn’t right, and that is clear now. We probably didn’t realise back then how wrong it was.
“It’s why I have come forward to support these players now. I must admit I haven’t talked about it for years.
“I know some people are dismissing this as being players who didn’t make it with sob stories, but that’s simply not true. It has taken them so long to speak out because of the impact it has had on their lives. Some of these lads were excellent players who I think could have made it. They didn’t get support back then, but it is only right they have it now.”
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Gary Baker was a youth team member and then on a YTS contract at Chelsea in the 80s, before being released and playing at amateur level. He says seeing a former player speak out in March made him feel compelled to come forward.
“It is really strange as I have not lost sleep over what happened at Chelsea over the past 30 years since leaving the club, and to be honest I have never really thought about it,” said Baker, now 52 and working for Royal Mail.
“I haven’t even kept in contact with any of the players since leaving the club and so when I read the articles in March I was surprised how it all came flooding back and how it made me feel.
“I didn’t know which players had come forward at that stage, but I wanted to speak out because I’d seen it with my own eyes.”
Baker says he was moved by the details one player has revealed about the impact on his life, saying the abuse had left him unable to go back to Chelsea to watch football again since, led to him suffering from depression and that he has battled with a lack of confidence throughout life.
“I was really saddened to hear how it had affected him, until this day, and I could understand that,” said Baker.
“My situation was different. I was told I had a promising career, then all of a sudden I was released and that was it. I found that difficult to handle mentally and subsequently in my life I have had relationship difficulties where I have ended things quickly. I was told by a counsellor that it could have been linked to my disappointment at Chelsea and how it was handled.
“That is life and these things happen, but it shows how things which happen to you as a kid can shape your life.
“I don’t want anything but for these lads to get the support they need. It is wrong that people are still feeling the impact of racial abuse as children all these years on. It is too easy to say people should be able to move on and handle it. People are affected in different ways, and it is why I have spoken out.”