Let me begin by making it very clear that this is a real-life situation and it did not happen twenty years ago; this is ongoing as I write and in fact, I only became aware of it myself on October 9th 2020. I have decided not to mention names, although I have added a link to a media report from Granada Reports to add evidence to support this blog being the truth, should you wish to watch it alongside your reading.
Thank you Jason for helping me write and draw attention to this Truth.
On October 8th 2020 I was aware that Barry Bennell – the football coach who has sexually abused over 100 boys, was finally being sentenced in Court for the last time. This process had started all over again for Bennell, who was first convicted in the 90s and when I disclosed in 2013 the sexual abuse I suffered as a 12 year old boy back in 1980.
At first my case was dropped but I fought that decision, having to change prosecution guidance during the process and won which then started a chain of events which then ran for over 7 and a half years until October 8th 2020.
It has been such a difficult period, although I believe we have certainly made positive change in certain areas due to disclosing what happened to us as young children, it is very clear to me now that we have only come half way to safeguarding children – especially within sport.
It was such a relief to know that it was finally over and that I could start to think about normal life again ( whatever that is ) after such a long time. I don’t feel I can describe exactly how I felt other than massive relief. I was completely and utterly drained.
Then can you believe it, just 24 hours later I received a private message from a friend, who sent me a photo of a press article from the area that I was brought up in – Lytham St.Annes. The article was about an individual who has been involved within Junior football for well over 40 years. He had just attended Magistrates Court for offences of Sexual Communications to what he believed to be a 12 year old boy; in fact it was part of a police sting operation.
Being honest, for the next few hours I struggled to process this. Yet again, another Individual – who on the outside appeared caring, warm, dedicated and professional to everyone around him, was revealed to have a darker side. But, this time not only was he my own football coach when I was a boy of just 8 years of age – I have known him since I was around 6 years old, he was my first ever junior manager; a person who I looked up as a boy.
I also worked alongside him at the Fylde Coast YMCA Association for over 25 years. Of course I was upset, but I was also angry and emotional.
I received lots of private messages that evening. Having worked for Fylde Coast YMCA for over 35 years, I know a lot of people who like me, have also played all their junior football for the club.
They were brilliant times; I loved every minute of it. Mostly people were in disbelief, some were certainly angry. I quickly set the record straight with the disbelievers, as I am fully aware of how hard it is to get a case to court. I knew that to get an elderly man to go through that process, then the evidence must have been clearly in place from the police sting operation and they most certainly must have felt it was a serious and convincing case, and that it must have met public interest and evidence tests enough to take to Court.
It just goes to show again that you never know who to trust around your children.
However, it wasn’t until the following day that issues in my eyes took a massive turn for the worse, if that was possible at this stage. I was again sent a private message from someone from the YMCA, which was basically a statement from the LFA and the YMCA football club which had been sent out to people involved within the club.
I read, re-read and read again this statement, and to this day I cannot believe what It said. It included at the start information sent out by the LFA, then finished with information from the YMCA football club. Within this statement was the line. “ Many of you may have seen ( him ) at Seafield Road junior pitches and his attendance there as a spectator is authorised and sanctioned by Lancashire FA and in accordance with LADO ( Local Authority Designated Officer )”.
It also mentioned that the LFA had informed the FA Case Management team at Wembley, and finally it included the words, “Best safeguarding practices through-out”.
So I am sat in my house in October 2020, after everything that Survivors of sexual abuse have done over the last 4 years – especially from within football, and here I am reading that not only did the YMCA junior football club know, the LADO , the LFA and the FA (as well as of course local police), were all aware that an individual first arrested then investigated and finally charged with sexual communications to what he believed to be a 12 year old boy, and yet nobody thought about stopping him from attending junior football matches and more significantly, possibly being allowed to continue to watch and groom children.
The particular facility at Seafield Road which he had access to has small changing rooms, communal toilets and a small café area.
Please read the full blog here: https://aitpi.blogspot.com/2020/12/who-is-watching-your-children-play.html?spref=tw
Disclaimer – The opinion expressed in the blog are those of David Lean & Jason Holyhead
The image courtesy of The Yorkshire Post