A sexual abuse scandal involving the non-recent abuse of young players at football clubs in the United Kingdom began in mid-November 2016. The revelations began when former professional footballers waived their rights to anonymity and talked publicly about being abused by former coaches and scouts in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. This led to a surge of further allegations, as well as allegations that some clubs had covered them up.
Echoing similar revelations in the 1990s, the initial 2016 allegations centred on abuse of young players at Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City due to the clubs' associations with Barry Bennell, who had previously been convicted of sexual abuse offences in the UK and US and, on 29 November 2016, was charged with new offences. Allegations were also made against George Ormond, a former youth coach and scout for Newcastle United who also had a previous conviction; Eddie Heath, a former scout for Chelsea; and Bob Higgins, a former coach for Southampton and Peterborough. In early December 2016, allegations about former youth coaches and scouts in Northern Ireland and Scotland also started to emerge.
Within a month of the initial reporting, the Football Association, the Scottish Football Association, several football clubs and over 20 UK police forces had established various inquiries and investigations and over 350 alleged victims had come forward. As of 31 December 2017, police investigations had recorded 839 alleged victims, 294 alleged suspects, arising from 2094 referrals, impacting 334 clubs. These have led to ten individuals being charged with historical sexual abuse. Eight (including Ormond and Higgins) are awaiting trial and one has since died. In February 2018, Bennell became the first to be convicted, for 50 counts of sexual abuse involving 12 victims. Other allegations involve individuals who had died prior to the revelations.
The sexual abuse allegations related to several publicly identified individuals, listed below in the order of which they were named as the scandal developed from late 2016, through 2017 and into 2018 (some individuals, including Bennell, Ormond, Langford and Torbett, had previously been named and convicted for earlier offences of sexual abuse).
On 16 November 2016, former Crewe defender Andy Woodward alleged in an interview with Daniel Taylor of The Guardian newspaper that he had been the victim of child sexual abuse by former football coach Barry Bennell at the club in the 1980s (Woodward later claimed "People should know I suffered more than one abuser"). By 21 November, it was reported that six other people had contacted the police.
On 22 November, The Guardian alleged that Crewe teammate Steve Walters had been another of Bennell's victims, while Woodward criticised Crewe for failing to apologise. On 24 November, Dario Gradi, manager at Crewe during the early 1980s, released a statement saying he knew nothing of Bennell's crimes until Bennell was arrested in the United States in 1994.
On 23 November, former Manchester City players David White and Paul Stewart made similar sex abuse allegations about Bennell, and about another coach (later named as Frank Roper) at the Nova feeder club. Cheshire police said they had been contacted by 11 people (including Walters, but excluding White and Stewart) regarding the Bennell case. On 25 November, two further youth players, Jason Dunford and Chris Unsworth, also alleged sexual abuse by Bennell, initially at a Manchester City nursery team; Dunford also later spoke of abuse by Frank Roper. (In February 2018, it was revealed that three former Manchester City players had lodged civil cases against the club in March 2016 after allegedly becoming victims of Bennell.)
On 27 November, another former Crewe player, Anthony Hughes, said that he too had been abused by Bennell. Wales and Manchester United youth player Matthew Monaghan, former Preston North End reserve team player David Lean, and Wimbledon and ex Northern Ireland international Mark Williams also alleged abuse by Bennell.
Doubt regarding Crewe's claims of ignorance began to emerge on 25 November. First, Hamilton Smith, a director at Crewe Alexandra from 1986 to 1990, told The Guardian that the club heard an allegation that Bennell had sexually abused a junior footballer. However, Bennell was allowed to stay at the club – despite the then chairman, Norman Rowlinson, recommending that the club "get him out" and raising concerns with Manchester City – so long as Bennell was not left alone with boys and was stopped from arranging overnight stays; it was later (February 2018) reported that Rowlinson had sought police advice about Bennell and had been advised to "move him on". Smith said fellow directors did not want to rely on hearsay evidence and local gossip. In 2001 Smith met Tony Pickerin, the Football Association's head of education and child protection (formerly head of the FA's national school at Lilleshall), and requested an FA investigation into the care of children at Gresty Road. He said he later received a three-line letter from Pickerin saying the FA had “investigated the issues and is satisfied that there is no case to answer.”
Secondly, on 7 December 2016, the BBC reported that the mother of a former Crewe youth team player wrote an anonymous letter to Dario Gradi in 1989–90, asking him to investigate "inappropriate" behaviour whereby a member of staff "took lots of boys into his room overnight" during a weekend away in Blackpool.
Once a youth player at Chelsea, Bennell had worked for at least four English professional clubs: Manchester City, Crewe (from around 1984 until he was sacked in 1992 for reasons that have never been made public), Stoke City and Leeds United, and from 1992 to 1994 was head coach of the Staffordshire side Stone Dominoes. During a 1994 Dominoes tour to the United States, a 13-year-old club player claimed that Bennell had sexually abused him. Bennell was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida, and eventually charged on six counts of sexual battery and lewd and lascivious behavior. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years' imprisonment.
In the meantime, in 1996, a UK Channel 4 Dispatches programme highlighted child abuse allegations involving Bennell (also other coaches: Keith Ketley in Ipswich, Bob Higgins in Hampshire). The documentary featured Ian Ackley, a former player at Derbyshire youth side White Knowl, who was one of four boys who had come forward to British police after Bennell's US arrest. As a result, although Bennell did not serve the full term of imprisonment in America, he was arrested again on his return to England.
In February 1998, Bennell appeared at Mold Crown Court in north Wales and pleaded not guilty to charges of indecent assault, buggery and attempted buggery dating back to the 1970s and 1980s through to 1992, against children aged between nine and 15, with offences alleged to have taken place in Derbyshire, in the Crewe area and at Butlin's in Pwllheli, north Wales. Bennell was remanded in custody to appear at Chester Crown Court in June 1998. At Chester, Bennell was found guilty of 23 offences against six boys (including Ian Ackley), and received a nine-year jail sentence (a further 22 offences were left on file because the Crown Prosecution Service decided it was better not to put young boys through the trauma of a trial). In May 2015, Bennell (then calling himself 'Richard Jones' and living in Milton Keynes) received a further sentence of two years after pleading guilty to sexually abusing David Lean at a camp in Macclesfield in 1980.
At the inquest in 2012 into the death of Gary Speed, it was alleged that Speed and former Manchester United player Alan Davies had been "favourites" of Bennell, though there was no suggestion they had been abused by Bennell. Both players later took their own lives, as did Mark Hazeldine, coached by Bennell at Manchester City in the early 1980s.
In November 2016, Thames Valley Police visited Bennell's Milton Keynes address, though they said this was "in response to a safeguarding concern" and it was not investigating any offences. Bennell was taken to hospital in Stevenage after being found unconscious in Knebworth Park on Friday 25 November; Thames Valley police said officers had been called to a “fear for welfare” incident. It was believed Bennell was staying at a hotel after leaving his Milton Keynes home as the scandal broke. On 29 November 2016, then 62-year-old Bennell was charged with eight counts of sexual assault against a boy aged under 14, alleged to have taken place between 1981 and 1985. Bennell appeared by videolink at South Cheshire magistrates' court in Crewe on 14 December, and was remanded in custody to appear at Chester Crown Court in January 2017. On 16 January 2017, speaking via videolink from HM Prison Woodhill, Bennell pleaded not guilty to the charges, and was remanded in custody until 20 March 2017.
On 7 March 2017, Bennell was charged with eight further counts of child sexual abuse. He appeared at South Cheshire magistrates' court via video-link on 13 March, when an additional four charges were also made, and was remanded in custody to appear at Chester Crown Court on 22 March, when all 20 charges against him were dealt with together. At that hearing, Bennell pleaded not guilty to 14 counts of indecent assault, five counts of buggery and one count of attempted buggery. The case was adjourned to 3 July 2017 at Liverpool Crown Court with a trial listed for January 2018 in Liverpool.
In May 2017, Bennell appeared in court having been charged with a further 21 offences: 18 counts of indecent assault, two of serious sexual assault and one of attempted sexual assault, relating to four boys aged between 14 and 16, and alleged to have taken place between 1983 and 1991.
In June 2017, Bennell appeared in court charged with a further 14 offences (bringing the total to 55); ten of these charges related to indecent assaults on four 11- to 14-year-olds, four for alleged buggery. He made court appearances on 28 June and 17 July, when he was remanded in custody ahead of a trial due to start on 8 January 2018.
As Bennell had previously changed his name to Richard Jones, in court he was referred to as 'Mr Jones'. At the start of his trial on 8 January 2018, he pleaded guilty to seven offences of indecent assault committed between 1981 and 1991 against three boys. As the prosecution presented evidence relating to the remaining 48 charges, he appeared via video-link due to an illness that required him to be fed through a tube. The jury was sent out to consider its verdict on 8 February 2018, having been directed to return not guilty verdicts in respect of three indecent assault charges where no evidence had been offered. On 13 February 2018, Bennell was found guilty of 36 sex offences; after the jury were given more time to consider other counts, on 15 February he was convicted of seven further offences. Following the earlier seven guilty pleas, he was sentenced on Monday 19 February for a total of 50 offences against 12 boys, and was jailed for 31 years (being expected to serve half in custody, with the rest on licence).
After the guilty verdicts, victims Andy Woodward, Micky Fallon, Chris Unsworth and Steve Walters read statements outside Liverpool Crown Court; another victim, Gary Cliffe, waived his anonymity to speak about the abuse he had experienced, aged 11 to 15, from Bennell while at Manchester City. The club offered its "heartfelt sympathy to all victims for the unimaginably traumatic experiences they have endured", and said an internal review had identified serious allegations of child sex abuse in respect of a second man, John Broome (now dead), with "potential historic connections to the club". Crewe Alexandra expressed its "deepest sympathies" to Bennell's victims, saying it was not aware of any sexual abuse by Bennell nor had it received any complaint about sexual abuse by him before or during his employment with the club. This claim has been disputed: the Guardian alleged Bennell had to leave Crewe following a complaint against him, having been identified as a risk long before joining Crewe, amid a cover-up at Manchester City. Lord Carlile, the barrister who prosecuted Bennell in 1998, accused Crewe of 'brushing the scandal under the carpet'.
Following complaints from other former players (the Guardian said there had allegations from another 86 former footballers), mostly from Manchester City and Crewe, Bennell was reported to be likely to face a further trial, though the judge (Clement Goldstone QC) said the Crown Prosecution Service would have to think carefully as Bennell "may well die in prison."
In April 2018, it was reported that Bennell was appealing against his 30-year sentence.
On 24 November 2016, The Guardian reported that an anonymous ex-footballer had contacted police to say he was a victim of George Ormond, a former Newcastle United youth coach who was jailed in December 2002 for offences against young footballers in the area. On 29 November 2016, The Guardian reported allegations by Derek Bell that he had been abused by George Ormond at the Montagu and North Fenham boys football club in the 1970s. Bell later played for Newcastle United (1980–1984) and on 1 December accused Newcastle of a cover-up over the abuse allegations. Bell claimed he alerted the club in 1998 but although Ormond's employment ended, his conduct was not investigated or reported to the police until 2001. The Guardian also reported allegations about Ormond from David Eatock, who signed for Newcastle as an 18-year-old in 1995.
Ormond was described by a judge in 2002 as a "predatory abuser" after he was convicted of 12 indecent assaults and one attempted indecent assault on seven boys which had taken place between 1975 and 1999.
In May 2017, Ormond, aged 61 and from Newton Abbot in Devon, was charged with 29 offences (27 of indecent assault, one charge of indecency with a child and one of buggery, relating to 17 male complainants and alleged to have taken place from 1973 to 1998). He appeared by videolink at Newcastle magistrates' court on 9 June, and was bailed to appear on 7 July 2017 at Newcastle Crown Court. In that appearance, he denied 35 historic sexual offences (33 of indecent assault, one of gross indecency with a child and a serious sexual offence with a 15-year-old) said to relate to 18 complainants, and was bailed to reappear in May 2018.
On 29 November 2016, Chelsea announced it was investigating allegations of historical sexual abuse in the 1970s, including a secret payment to a former player who had accused the club’s ex-chief scout Eddie Heath of child sexual abuse. On 2 December, the former player was named as Gary Johnson, who said he was paid £50,000 not to go public with allegations that he was sexually abused by Heath; the following day, Chelsea apologised "profusely" to Johnson, who later demanded further financial compensation from the club. Also on 3 December, The Independent reported an allegation from another Chelsea youth player (on 18 December named as Eamonn Manners) that Dario Gradi, then Chelsea's assistant manager, visited the player's family's home to "smooth over" a complaint of sexual assault against Heath in 1974; Gradi was among the first to be targeted by the FA's enquiry, and, in connection with these allegations, on 11 December 2016, the FA announced that it had suspended Gradi (Gradi subsequently said he had been notified by the FA of his interim suspension from football on 25 November, and reiterated "that I will do everything within my power to assist all investigatory authorities"). Former Chelsea youth goalkeeper Derek Richardson became the third player to allege abuse by Heath.
On 4 December 2016, Heath was the subject of allegations of early 1980s abuse made by former youth player Russell Davy, at another London club, Charlton Athletic; Davy also wrote to the FA about Heath but his letter was not even acknowledged. Later the same month, another Charlton youth player Paul Collins also alleged abuse by Heath.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Heath was employed at Leyton Orient (former goalkeeper Peter Chapman described him as "the dark eminence of Orient's youth outfit"), where his sexual abuse was common knowledge among players including former captain Jimmy Scott, before joining Chelsea. In 1979, he contested his dismissal from Chelsea by then manager Geoff Hurst at an industrial tribunal. After leaving Chelsea, he worked at Millwall and then Charlton Athletic, before dying of a heart attack in the early 1980s.
At Southampton, former trainees Dean Radford, Jamie Webb and, later, Billy Seymour told the BBC about incidents they said happened when they were in their teens. Matt Le Tissier, who joined Southampton as a trainee in the mid-1980s, recalled being given a naked massage by Higgins. Le Tissier reiterated that he does not feel that he was abused, but thought this incident and other behaviour he witnessed was "very wrong". By 4 December 2016, six players had alleged abuse by an ex-Southampton employee, and various media named him as Bob Higgins, until recently a first team coach (said not to be involved with youth players) at non-league side Fleet Town.
Bob Higgins was dismissed by Southampton in 1989 after several allegations were made against him, and after he set up the "Bob Higgins Soccer Academy", the Football League wrote to all clubs in April 1989 warning them against any involvement with it. He then joined the Malta Football Association.
In 1991 he was charged with six counts of indecent assault against young boys he had been coaching; at the trial at Southampton Crown Court, he was acquitted on the direction of the judge when the prosecution offered no evidence. Higgins was suspended by the Malta FA between 1990 and 1992 when the original allegations were made, reinstated on a year's probation after being cleared, and then left in 1994. While working in Malta, Higgins was said to have 'showered naked' with young players; one youth said it was common for Higgins to drive him in his car and touch him around his neck and his legs.
Higgins then worked as a youth coach at Peterborough United from May 1995 to April 1996, and was investigated as part of the 1997 Channel 4 Dispatches investigation, and denied allegations of abuse, claiming he was a faith healer and born again Christian. One former youth player alleged Higgins provided "soapy massages"; another, 'Jon' (not his real name), said he was left emotionally scarred and needing treatment for mental health issues, and that complaints made in 2013 to Peterborough resulted in no action.
In 1997, letters were sent to clubs and youth groups warning them that Higgins posed a risk to children. Higgins was then appointed manager of non-league Bashley, until he was sacked in 2001. The BBC reported that Higgins then worked at Winchester City for a few months; "At a meeting with Hampshire County Council and the local FA, Winchester representatives were shown the TV documentary that had aired a few years earlier and it was made clear it was inappropriate for Mr Higgins to stay at the club."
On 5 July 2017, Higgins was charged with 65 counts of indecent assault. The offences were alleged to have taken place in the 1980s and 1990s and to have involved 23 alleged victims. He appeared at West Hampshire (Southampton) Magistrates' Court on 20 July, when he indicated he would plead not guilty to the alleged offences and was given unconditional bail until a hearing at Winchester Crown Court on 16 August 2017. At a pre-trial hearing in January 2018, Higgins denied 50 charges of abusing 24 boys between 1970 and 1996; he was set to stand trial at Salisbury Crown Court on 29 May 2018.
On 5 December 2016, allegations spread to Scotland when a former youth football coach and assistant referee, Hugh Stevenson (who died in 2004), was accused by Peter Haynes of child sex offences over a three to four-year period said to have begun on the day of the 1979 Scottish Cup Final between Rangers and Hibernian at Hampden Park. Stevenson was assistant referee in at least four international matches, including the England v Wales home international at Wembley in 1977, and was a club official at Eastercraigs Boys Club between the late 1970s and mid 1980s, before being asked to leave after attempting inappropriate contact with a boy at another club. He then moved to the Glasgow-based Chelsea Boys Club, which had an affiliation to the London club, and later was involved with the Paisley-based Ferguslie United and Cowdenbeath. Police Scotland confirmed that a then 55-year-old man had been investigated by Strathclyde Police in 1993 and 1996, with reports submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service each time.
Also on 5 December 2016, Mitch Agnew, part of Ferguslie United's coaching set-up in the 1990s and a senior figure in the Scottish Youth Football Association, was suspended pending an investigation.
In Belfast, on 7 December 2016, former Celtic youth coach Jim McCafferty was charged with offences relating to sexual activity with a child, allegedly committed in Northern Ireland. On 5 January 2017, he appeared via video-link from Maghaberry jail in County Antrim at Belfast Laganside court, charged with engaging in sexual activity with a child aged between 13 and 16 in Northern Ireland between December 2011 and December 2014. At this and a further court hearing, he was remanded in custody. McCafferty was due to appear at Belfast's Laganside court on Friday 1 September where he was expected to plead guilty to sexual abuse charges, but proceedings were delayed pending medical reports. At a further court hearing on 27 September 2017, McCafferty's intention to plead guilty to at least two of eight sex charges was considered, but the arraignment hearing was adjourned until November 2017 to allow psychiatric reports. In February 2018 at Belfast Crown Court, McCafferty was formally arraigned on eight charges, with a trial date set for 21 May 2018.
McCafferty, former kitman for Celtic, Hibernian and Falkirk, admitted abusing teenagers in the 1980s and 1990s while coaching boys’ and junior teams in West Lothian, Scotland, and at Celtic between 1990 and 1996. Newspaper reports also alleged that McCafferty arranged for boys to be sent to Crewe for trials, and to stay at Barry Bennell's home.
On 5 January 2017, the FA suspended former youth coach Paul McCann, who worked for Crewe in a voluntary capacity in the 1980s and 90s and was assistant coach of the club's youth team for a time, and later a volunteer youth coach at Merseyside non-league club AFC Bebington in 2014-15.
Almost a year later, on 3 January 2018, McCann, 57, appeared at South Cheshire magistrates' court charged with six non-recent sexual offences, including indecent assault on a boy under the age of 16 years and indecent assault on the same victim when aged 16 or over, dating back to 1987-1989. McCann, from Great Sutton in Cheshire, appeared at Chester Crown Court on 31 January when he denied the charges and was released on unconditional bail ahead of a trial date set for 8 October 2018.
On 27 January 2017, it was reported that (after Higgins) a second former Peterborough United coach had been arrested during investigations into historical sexual abuse. Michael Sean "Kit" Carson, 73, was held in Cambridge on suspicion of indecency with children and indecent assault; the following day, he was released on bail until 6 March.
Carson worked at Norwich City from 1983 until 1993, and was academy director at Peterborough from 1993 to 2001 (overlapping with Bob Higgins for almost a year), before leaving to become head of talent development at Cambridge United from 2001 to 2005.
On 2 March 2018 it was announced that Carson had been charged with 11 counts of indecent assault and one of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity. The alleged offences all involved boys under 16, and were said to have occurred from 1978 to 2009. Carson, 74, appeared at Cambridge magistrates' court on 17 April 2018, pleading not guilty to the 12 charges; he will appear at Peterborough crown court on 15 May 2018.
On 30 January 2017, former Leicester City trainee Tony Brien told the BBC that he had been abused from the age of 12 by club scout Ted Langford in the 1980s while at local youth team Dunlop Tigers (Langford had been named in allegations which surfaced in December 2016). Brien said he had been assaulted on the pretext that the scout needed the player's sperm to establish whether he had a "footballer's gene". When Langford moved to Aston Villa, Brien says he had "two or three" conversations with the club's former assistant manager Dave Richardson and another senior figure, but was put off from going public with the allegations. In September 2017, it was reported that Graham Taylor (then manager of Aston Villa, and later manager of England) had discouraged Brien from reporting what had happened, telling him that he should "move on".
Langford was sacked by Aston Villa in 1988. He later admitted sex offences, dating from 1976 until after he left the club in 1989; he was sentenced to three years in prison in 2007 for the sexual abuse of four young players (excluding Brien) in the 1970s and 80s. He died in 2012.
On 24 March 2017, it was reported that 84-year-old former youth football scout Harry Dunn, who had worked at Liverpool, Rangers and Chelsea, had been arrested by Scottish police investigating allegations of historical sex abuse. In February 2017, Dunn had been the subject of allegations by a former Rangers youth player, Darren Mixon, concerning an incident in 1984. Dunn subsequently appeared in court in late April 2017, facing one allegation of assault and sodomy and a second charge of assault and attempted sodomy. In November 2017, it was reported that Dunn had died.
Jim Torbett, a former Celtic Boys Club manager, was found guilty in 1998 of shameless and indecent conduct with three juvenile players between October 1967 and March 1974, and given a prison sentence of 30 months. In April 2017, a BBC Scotland programme Football Abuse: The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game, alleged that the reasons for Torbett leaving Celtic Boys' Club in 1974 were covered up, that Torbett was allowed to return to the Boys' Club, and that two youth players (one named as Kenny Campbell) were abused by Torbett in his second spell at the Boys' Club during the 1980s and 1990s - claims which Torbett has "vehemently" denied. Tracked down in America, Torbett was confronted by a BBC Scotland reporter about the Campbell allegations; he said: "I have a lot to say. I'll see him in court," and denied being a paedophile.
In early May 2017, following a visit from US Homeland Security, he returned to the UK; he was subsequently arrested and charged with six offences (three of indecent assault and three of lewd, indecent and libidinous practices), and on 5 May 2017 appeared at Glasgow Sheriff Court where he was released on bail. In April 2018, Torbett appeared at the High Court in Glasgow where he faced 12 historical sexual abuse charges dating from January 1970 to August 1994; a June 2018 trial date was set.
The same BBC Scotland programme also made new allegations against Gordon Neely (who died in 2014), a youth coach at Rangers in the 1980s who, after abuse allegations were made, had been "dismissed immediately," the Glasgow club said. Neely had also been accused by former youth player Colin Anderson of abuse at Edinburgh youth club Hutchison Vale. According to the BBC, youth player Jon Cleland was repeatedly raped by Neely while at Hutchison Vale and at Hibernian (Neely took up a youth development position with Hibs in around 1983). After abuse allegations were made against Neely in 1986, he was sacked, but subsequently joined Rangers where his abuse continued. After he left Rangers in about 1990, he allegedly continued to abuse young players when offering one-to-one training and activity weekends in Dunkeld and Dalguise, Perthshire, for young footballers.
In mid April 2017, Gerald King, 65, a former chairman of Celtic Boys Club, was charged by police with non-recent sexual offences. In February 2018, he pleaded not guilty to seven offences, and was bailed ahead of a pre-trial hearing.
In late April 2017, Frank Cairney, 82, a former coach and manager at Celtic Boys Club was charged in connection with six alleged historical sexual offences. In November 1998, Cairney was acquitted of charges of shameless indecency towards young football players due to lack of evidence.
Alleged abusers also included (in alphabetical order):
On 21 November 2016, the Football Association said it was setting up a helpline; this was established with the NSPCC and opened on 24 November, reportedly receiving over 50 calls within the first two hours, over 100 by 27 November, and 860 ("more than three times as many referrals as in the first three days of the Jimmy Savile scandal") by 1 December with 350 individuals alleging abuse. After three weeks, the call total had reached 1700. The FA and NSPCC also collaborated to produce a film about how to keep children safe in the sport, featuring the captains of England's men's, women's and cerebral palsy football teams (Wayne Rooney, Steph Houghton and Jack Rutter).
After the Hamilton Smith interview suggesting the FA failed to thoroughly investigate Crewe's system, on 27 November, the FA announced it was to set up an internal review, led by independent counsel Kate Gallafent QC, into what Crewe and Manchester City knew about Barry Bennell and allegations of child sexual abuse in football, and investigate what information it was aware of at the time of the alleged offences.
The FA was criticised by Conservative MP Damian Collins, chair of the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee, for being too slow in reacting and not instigating a wider review. Former sport minister Gerry Sutcliffe talked of previous concern about how the FA dealt with governance of the sport and with youth development (in the 1990s, the FA was said to have reacted "dismissively" to worries about sexual abuse in the game, and too slow to implement criminal record checks; in 2003, the FA had scrapped a project meant to ensure children were being protected from sexual abuse; and FA officials had been uncooperative with the review project, with ten of 14 FA staff not replying to interview requests and a report by the researchers of others being "prevented/bullied" from talking). Sutcliffe said an independent body, such as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, should look at the issue rather than the FA investigating itself: "What I've seen in football over the years is that they're very narrow, very insular, and may not do a proper job even though with the right intentions."
On 6 December 2016, the FA announced that, due to "the increased scope of the review since it was announced" and Gallafent's other professional commitments, the review would be conducted by Clive Sheldon QC. On the same day, it was announced that former Chelsea assistant manager Dario Gradi would be among the first to be targeted by the FA's enquiry over the "smoothing over" allegation, and five days later the FA announced Gradi had been suspended. Almost three months later, in February 2017, it was reported that Gradi planned to appeal against his FA suspension from football, feeling he had been left "in limbo".
On 5 January 2017, it was reported that the FA had suspended former Crewe youth coach Paul McCann.
The FA collaborated with other UK sports bodies to support the NSPCC's Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU), founded in 2001 following various 1990s revelations of abuse, most notably in swimming. Brunel University's Daniel Rhind said the FA is today seen as a leading sports governing body for child protection with the system put in place since the CPSU was formed regarded as a “gold standard” model other countries can follow. In December 2016, the FA said that 99% of its 7,814 grassroots clubs, covering 62,238 teams, had responded to a deadline to renew their safeguarding policies and commitment. On 6 January 2017, the FA said 99.7% of clubs' coaches had valid criminal records checks but more than 2,500 coaches were without an in-date CRC, and so these clubs were facing potential suspension and removal of their FA affiliation.
On 11 January 2017, it was reported that the FA's review, led by Clive Sheldon, had made its first call for evidence, writing to all football clubs in England and Wales, amateur and professional, asking for information about allegations of child sexual abuse between 1970 and 2005. Clubs had until 15 March 2017 to respond. The FA's inquiry was expected to last around a year to 18 months. In May 2017, eight (unnamed) professional clubs were reported to have failed to respond to the FA's call for evidence, despite a deadline extension to the end of April, as investigators started to search 5,000 boxes of FA archives - each containing up to 1,000 pages. Sheldon issued a fresh appeal for victims of sexual abuse in football to come forward in July 2017. In October 2017, it was reported that six county Football Associations had not responded to requests for information five months after being asked to do so, while the volume of material involved would delay the final report until after Easter 2018. Ongoing criminal proceedings against Bennell, Higgins and others were also likely to limit what could be covered in the report. Sheldon and other members of the enquiry team were reported to be receiving counselling after hearing some victims' abuse accounts.
Also in October 2017, FA chairman Greg Clarke was criticised by Andy Woodward for 'humiliating' remarks Clarke made to a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee hearing, while the Professional Footballers' Association's chief executive Gordon Taylor said the PFA might sue Clarke over suggestions Taylor had not supported Woodward with further counselling.
Eight days after Woodward's initial revelations, the PFA said on 24 November 2016 that the number of players who had contacted it with similar stories had reached double figures, later (27 November) revising this to "more than 20" and adding Blackpool and Leeds United to the list of clubs implicated. In January 2017, it was reported that Steve Walters had been on a course of counselling at the Priory provided by the PFA.
On 7 December 2016, Premier League boss Richard Scudamore wrote to the parents of more than 3,000 players in the league's youth system to reassure them regarding child protection. On 23 December 2016, it was reported that Chelsea had not broken Premier League rules in failing to report 2014 allegations of historical sexual abuse made by Gary Johnson, but would undergo a safeguarding audit.
After the Hugh Stevenson allegations emerged, Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan apologised "deeply" to Peter Haynes. Former SFA chief executive Gordon Smith, civil rights lawyer Raju Bhatt and Deputy First Minister John Swinney all called for an independent inquiry after Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rejected calls for an existing inquiry to be widened. On 13 December 2016, the SFA said it would set up an "independent review" of child abuse allegations in football; on the same date, of 15,385 coaches registered with the Scottish Youth Football Association, 2,500 had not had Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) clearance, though this backlog was largely cleared ahead of a 31 August 2017 deadline. In February 2017, it was reported that the SFA's enquiry would be headed by Martin Henry, formerly a police protection chief and national manager of child sexual abuse prevention charity Stop it Now! Scotland.
In Manchester on 5 December 2016, abuse victims Andy Woodward, Steve Walters, Chris Unsworth, Matthew Monaghan and Mark Williams launched a support organisation, the Offside Trust, to support player victims of abuse and their families (though it is unclear if this body is to become a registered charity). At the launch, the Trust's lawyer Ed Smethurst talked of alleged abusers still working "in the senior echelons" of football, of "grave misgivings about the FA's independent inquiry", and of new claims that clubs had paid 'hush money'. On 3 February 2017, it was announced that Woodward was stepping away from the Trust, having resigned as a director. On 20 August 2017, a celebrity football match was played at Curzon Ashton F.C. in Manchester to raise funds for the Trust.
Dario Gradi's 24 November statement mentioned Crewe Alexandra had established an internal review, and the club subsequently announced it would be holding an independent review into how they dealt with historical child sex abuse allegations: "an independent review, to be conducted via the appointment of external legal counsel, is the correct way forward". In February 2018, the club had not started this review, claiming an unnamed authority told them to hold off until the criminal case was over. On 2 March 2018, the club issued a statement saying that, as it had fully supported and co-operated with the police's detailed and comprehensive investigations, it did "not intend to commission a further independent investigation to duplicate the thorough enquiries that have already been undertaken," and said the police's report had also been supplied to the FA review headed by Clive Sheldon. Crewe's decision to shelve its own investigation was criticised by local MP Laura Smith (daughter of former club director Hamilton Smith) who said victims deserved nothing less than a thorough investigation which "should be transparent and leave no stone unturned." The club was also excluded from the NorthWest Football Awards, was criticised by Damian Collins, chair of the DCMS select committee, and by Crewe Town Council, and was called to reconsider its decision by the PFA's Gordon Taylor.
Manchester City said it had opened an investigation regarding Bennell's association with the club in the 1980s; in May 2017, it was reported this was being led by Jane Mulcahy QC. Stoke said they were ready to launch an investigation into any allegation raised. On 25 November, Northumbria Police said their inquiries were "ongoing", while Newcastle United said it would cooperate with the police and relevant authorities. On 29 November, Chelsea announced it had appointed a law firm to carry out an investigation connected to allegations of historical sexual abuse in the 1970s; it was later reported that Chelsea's review was being chaired by Charles Geekie QC, a specialist in child abuse cases.
The FA's enquiry also linked to club enquiries. In May 2017, FA letters were sent to almost 20 clubs linked to the scandal to establish if they are holding their own reviews and, if not, why not. Clubs including Chelsea, Manchester City, Newcastle United, Southampton, Aston Villa, Blackpool and Crewe Alexandra were asked to submit evidence to Sheldon's own review. In March 2018, Clive Sheldon warned up to a dozen clubs they must hold their own investigations into abuse claims or he will do it, putting pressure on Crewe to reconsider its decision not to hold an inquiry.
Initially, Cheshire police were reported to be liaising with Greater Manchester Police over the allegations, with the Manchester force later confirming it was launching an investigation and co-operating with Operation Hydrant, the national co-ordination hub for historical child abuse investigations concerning persons of public prominence. On 26 November Hampshire Police said it was looking into claims of "non-recent child abuse within the football community", while the Metropolitan Police also opened investigations. By 1 December, Staffordshire Police, Police Scotland, Essex Police, Norfolk Police and North Wales Police were reported to be among 17 forces examining claims of historical sex abuse in football. On 6 December 2016, the Police Service of Northern Ireland became the 21st UK police force to confirm it was investigating claims. On 13 December 2016, the Metropolitan Police said it was investigating 106 allegations of historical sexual abuse at 32 London football clubs (including four in the Premier League, two in the Championship, three against clubs in Leagues One and Two and 21 other clubs including non-league or non-professional or amateur teams). Some six weeks later (30 January 2017), the Met were reported to be investigating 255 separate allegations against individuals at 77 clubs, including all five London Premiership teams.
By 3 December 2016, 55 professional and non-league clubs had been cited by people claiming they were abused. On 9 December 2016, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said 83 potential suspects and 98 clubs were involved in the inquiry into child abuse; on 21 December 2016, the NPCC's figures were updated to 155 suspects and 148 clubs, with detectives said to be examining possible attacks on 429 people. The "higher than usual" volume of calls was said to be delaying police interviews and investigations, with some respondents waiting more than a month; the first wave of victims waited an average of six weeks to be interviewed. The increase in allegations of child sexual abuse linked to football led Cheshire Police to ask the Home Office for extra funding.
On 18 January 2017, the NPCC said the number of affected clubs had grown to 248, up 100 since its December 2016 update. It said Operation Hydrant had received 1,016 referrals from the NSPCC and from police forces (up from 819), and had identified 184 suspects and 526 potential victims, of whom 97% are male, with ages ranging from four to 20 when the alleged abuse took place. In April 2017, Operation Hydrant was reported to have received over 400 new referrals since January, bringing the total to 1,432 referrals, and was investigating complaints involving 311 clubs, 23% of them professional. The NPCC said the number of victims at 31 March 2017 stood at 560 (96% of them male), with 252 suspects identified. Up to 30 June 2017, Police Scotland said over 150 people had reported being sexually abused as a child within a football club setting, 295 crimes had been recorded, and 11 people had been arrested. According to NPCC figures, a total of 741 alleged victims had come forward by 30 June 2017, with 276 suspects named, 1,886 incidents reported and 328 clubs at every level of football affected. An NPCC update on 28 September 2017 revised the figures to 784 victims, 285 suspects and 331 clubs, arising from 2028 referrals (688 from the NSPCC, 1340 from police forces). As of 31 December 2017, Operation Hydrant had recorded 839 alleged victims, 294 alleged suspects, arising from 2094 referrals, impacting 334 clubs.
As well as football, 27 referrals of victims were made from other sports including basketball, rugby, gymnastics, martial arts, tennis, wrestling, golf, sailing, athletics, cricket, and swimming.
In April 2017, it was reported that Operation Hydrant had received reports of incidents within football after 2005 (the FA inquiry's cut-off date), with 46 alleged attacks said to have occurred from 2005 to 2016, including 23 since 2011.
On 16 November 2017, almost exactly a year after the scandal first emerged, the sports minister Tracey Crouch announced that the Ministry of Justice had agreed changes to the law to make it illegal for sport coaches to have sex with 16- and 17-year-old children in their care, bringing the sport industry into line with sectors such as education and social care.