It was 1987 and we were down in Spiddal at the Gaeltacht. They were not innocent times. One Christian Brother, from a Dublin School, was the object of our schoolboy gossip. You didn’t want to get left alone with him, we were told, and he’d always lend a helping hand.
Apparently his favourite thing was to support you as you opened (or closed) the top window. Even when he visited myself and one other boy when we were off ill, we were told to be careful of his hand “slipping under and up” the blankets.
I never saw or knew the man to do anything. Yet I was always uncomfortable around him. Now this football child abuse scandal has us all gasping and demanding answers, this news cycle.
Sexual exploitation of minors is nothing new. Throughout history boys and girls were “indoctrinated” into adulthood by predatory/loving/well-meaning/evil older people.
It continues today across the world and has a safe home in sport. I do not need to go into the depths of depravity suffered by boys and girls at the hands of Irish Swimming coaches.
And as horrible as the revelations of Football Child Abuse in England have been this past week, they’ll soon be forgotten about with the next “shocking story”.
They will disappear into the ether, few will be held accountable and cash will be dished out to hush people up.
Football child abuse
After publishing this story in 2012, which just that short part on a footballer who was approached by a notorious predator, I had my club accreditation pulled.
I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I was disruptive. That word “disruptive” was actually used.
The coach in question was supposed to have retired, but he hadn’t. He was still working at a youth soccer club in Moscow at the time and I wrote about him because I’d been informed by a parent that they were wary of allowing their child away to a training camp.
The coach had a typical modus operandi – praise the child, make them feel special, offer rewards and win their confidence and love.
I informed the President of the club of what I knew, gave him the contact of the player in the article and told him I’d be following up shortly.
The man was removed from his position and waited a full four days before another club snapped him up in the Moscow Region. I did the same thing and was told politely to f— off by the club.
I had no further avenues to go, legally, and nobody was willing to come forward to make a case. He retired at the end of last season.
Football child abuse is nothing new and happens in many ways. Whether it is incorrect training, advice or physical/verbal/mental assaults, they leave long lasting effects.
Sexual abuse is devastating and leaves an everlasting mark on the individual. It will manifest itself mentally, morally, physically and never leave the person.
However, the need for success and ignorance of child welfare often includes engaging risky characters who keep finding paymasters time and again.
When I told one tennis mom in Russia NOT to send her daughter to a known paedophile, she responded by telling me that “He gets results”. I heard the same in relation to doping.
At least in those cases the blame is firmly on the parent. However, for the young footballers in England and elsewhere, it is the abuser who shoulders 50% and the rest evenly divided between media and administrators.
For the next little while, as football child abuse remains in vogue, we will witness a buck-passing blame game. Nobody from the FA will resign. Business will go on as usual and it will all be forgotten by Christmas.
Those who suffered will carry their burden and those who allowed them to suffer will tut tut and shake their heads.
Just as WADA and the IAAF were caught spinning yarns, yet will suffer no losses or sanctions, the same will happen with those tasked with the protection of the most vulnerable in football.
When the grandmother of the child abused by a youth coach in the club changing room finally reached out to me, we reported the coach to the local police in Strogino. They went to speak with the coach and his colleague (who was informed by the Grandmother) and both expressed surprise.
With nothing to build a case, they said, it was dropped. The child is no longer at the club, the abuser has moved to another Premier League Academy and his colleague has left football.
I can say that football is not half as bad as tennis where sexual abuse is rampant and accepted. nor as bad as athletics or gymnastics or swimming or, or, or. But that would be speaking nonsense.
There is no excuse for sex abuse and we cannot allow football escape as lightly as it will.