Victims of sexual abuse speak out in week that truly shook football

The brave testimony of Andy Woodward has led to fears of a paedophile ring in the sport. The Football Association and clubs are under pressure to show they can handle the outpouring

English football, so often the subject of both front and back pages during frothing episodes in which scandal and shame are appended to any number of trivialities, has had a week during which those words have taken on a deadening tone.

After the former professional Andy Woodward waived his anonymity to tell the Guardian of years of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Barry Bennell, a convicted paedophile who worked for Crewe Alexandra in the 1980s and 1990s and also had associations with Manchester City and Stoke City, the shockwaves have reverberated round the game.

On reading Woodwards harrowing tale of how abuse had permanently scarred his life, better-known players came forward. David White, a former Manchester City striker and England international, who was working on a book about his experiences, confirmed he had also been abused by Bennell.

In another interview Paul Stewart, a former Liverpool and Spurs striker who also played for England, revealed he had been abused by another coach who moved in similar circles raising fears of a paedophile ring operating in the north-west of England during the period in question.

I believe there was a conspiracy and [a] paedophile ring, Jason Dunford, a youth team player with Manchester City, told the BBC. There were people at those clubs who had a duty to look after boys coming through their system.

On Thursday and Friday Northumbria and Hampshire police also opened inquiries after complaints by former players on the south coast and in the north-east, and a hotline set up by the Football Association and the NSPCC had fielded more than 50 calls in the first few hours of operation.

Clubs including Manchester City and Newcastle United have said they will assist police with inquiries. The Metropolitan police also said they had received information relating to historic sexual abuse at football clubs in London.

Michael Bennett, head of player welfare at the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), spoke of a dam being busted after first Woodward and then Steve Walters, another player at Crewe in the late 1980s, came forward to waive their anonymity and speak of Bennells crimes.

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