HUNDREDS of children may have been sexually abused by figures within football, former England and Tottenham player Paul Stewart said today.
Mr Stewart, who says he was abused by a coach for four years as a child, said the sport could face allegations on the scale of the Jimmy Savile scandal.
It comes as the NSPCC said more than 50 people had rung an abuse helpline within two hours of it being set up.
It was launched after four footballers spoke about being abused as children.
Former Crewe players Andy Woodward and Steve Walters, ex-Manchester City player David White, as well as Mr Stewart have all spoken out about abuse in the game.
Mr Stewart, 52, a former England international who started his career at Blackpool and also played for Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Liverpool, said an unnamed coach abused him daily for four years up to the age of 15.
Mr Stewart said he believed there were “hundreds of victims” of sexual abuse who could come forward.
The NSPCC said callers to the new abuse hotline had raised concerns about children now and in the past, and it expected “many more” to come forward.
Today’s news resonates with me and my own battle with depression and alcohol to drown the memories of being sexually abused in my early teens by someone working closely with young boys.
For the past 18 months I have been writing my autobiography (working title: Survive the Rollercoaster and Assume the Position), which will be published later next year.
The book gives a blow by blow account of my life which includes: two battles with cancer, bereavement, divorces, bankruptcy, the suicide of a family member, my own attempted suicide, denial of access to two of my children, the repossession of my home, becoming a single parent and an unprovoked assault that almost took my life anyway.
Set against that backdrop there is a star-spangled career in journalism with a raft of awards and recognition and a series of stories of Establishment corruption at every level.
But underpinning all of this, is the sexual abuse I suffered as a 14 and 15 year-old.
So in an effort to stand with Paul Stewart, Andy Woodward, David White and Steve Walters I am today publishing online one chapter from that book in advance of its proper publication in 2017:
I HAVE slipped into a malaise. Not a depression, just an ever-circling melancholy of blue, which rotates before my eyes like a small planet.
I glance sideways and meet your gentle eyes. We sip flat white coffee together and share a smile. Holding hands, your spirit and mine disappear into the dense forest.
The forest and the memory.
I begin to cry.
I was born very far from where I now belong, and at this point in time realise there is no direction home.
So I stop, shopping bag full and weighing heavy in my right hand. I glance down and hand the homeless man a bag of oranges. He looks up with a toothless smile of gratitude. Stumbling for words I quietly blurt: “Some vitamin C for you.”
I wink nervously and move once more towards the blue.
Both prisoners on the road of life, yearning for love and light.
Tracing steps back to the forest we float in a mist of grey.
I offer you a handful of rain and slip back in time.
Hope sits eternal, but the darkness still lingers.
The smell of dank leaves and old bark assaults my nostrils.
And I see once more.
Standing in the gloom of a deciduous woodland, with his beige trousers bunched around his ankles, a slight and overly skinny 15-year-old boy is being sexually abused by a much older man – a man trusted to care for him.
I look more closely.
The tears welling in my eyes blur the vision, I choke back phlegm… the boy is me.
The man’s identity will come later.
It’s so many years ago… a Friday evening, early in April, 1971.
The abuser is the district commissioner for Scouts in my home town, a post-war new town set in Hertfordshire’s semi-rural suburbia.
The memories return slowly, like a traveller frightened of the road.
Only the rumble of a train on the nearby Euston line allows a sharper focus.
I had moved to this town with my parents and two sisters from the happier climes of Sussex some two years earlier.
We had found family refuge in a spacious Victorian coaching house nestling on the busy Belswains Lane, which years later would lead to the M25 motorway.
My ground floor bedroom of this old building, decorated with pictures of my favourite footballers, was my only refuge or sanctuary.
I was an awkward and spotty young teenager and had struggled to make friends in my new area. Although innately bright, I was just about middling at the local grammar school and divided my time between fishing on the nearby canal, playing football and Scouting.
The local Scout troop was proving to be something of a salvation. Located on the banks of the aforementioned canal, it had been failing and rumour spread that it might close. So, with dwindling numbers and a new young Scout leader, the older district commissioner had stepped in to lend a guiding role.
He was a 38 year-old, overweight office manager with permanent dark sweat stains around the arm pits of his Scout shirt. To us boys he seemed immediately odd and peculiarly frightening, if only by his insistence on wearing khaki shorts – something which had been ditched from the adult Scout uniform some 10 years earlier.
But, then we were sightless.
Behind his fashion sense, false Cheshire Cat smile and Brylcreemed hair, lay something dark and sinister.
With a strange fascination it bid us in.
I look back dazed in the headlights of the past.
Over many months this portly man had encouraged me to attend camps, orienteering, patrol leader weekends and wide games to help me ‘get the most out of Scouting’.
I had enjoyed being in the Cubs and Scouts since the age of seven.
It was fun and offered flights of real adventure.
But not anymore.
The oblivion of abuse had begun almost a year earlier, soon after my 14th birthday, at a so-called winter camping weekend in the woodland campsite adjacent to the aforementioned railway line – some three miles from my home, and five from the centre of town.
Over the course of 14 months, the abuse had become regular, routine and progressively invasive.
As it progressed I became weakened and controlled. And within my young teenage brain… terrified. I screamed silently for someone or something to help me.
But, I had been sworn to secrecy by this man. After all, I was the one he had caught ‘playing with’ himself in my Scout tent, and I would be totally humiliated if anyone found out.
I felt dirty and terrified and above all convinced I must be a ‘queer’ to allow this to happen. My constant over-riding feeling was a need to escape this darkness, this control, this nightmare.
The fear was becoming corrosive, my Blakean innocence being poisoned and my future altered before it had begun.
In recurring nightmares I met a monster sleeping by a huge oak tree, the air was a stagnant musty yellow, and when I looked closer I found the monster was me.
In reality I tried all manner of excuses not to attend Scouts and these ever more frequent camps.
When eventually my concerned parents questioned my ongoing reluctance, I lied that I was being bullied by older boys. Their answer was simple: ‘stand up to the bullies’. Followed by: ‘If you leave the Scouts they will know they have beaten you’!
Inside my head was screaming “No, no, no, why can’t you hear me?”
Now, looking back over all these years, and with the perspective of parenthood, I wish I had told them the truth. But, I was sure my mother would accuse me of exaggerating. Equally, my father was a strong-minded man and I was terrified he would humiliate me further, with jibes about me being a ‘poof’ or something much worse.
I now know he would have hugged me close and in all likelihood physically attacked my abuser had he known.
I don’t blame my parents, they were the most loving and caring I could have wished for. But times were different back then and there were many things in life that were still taboo.
So the abuse continued unabated as I turned 15 and turned more introspective and aloof to friends.
I was in my abuser’s control and I could not break free from the ever burning pit of fear.
There seemed no way out. Killing myself did not enter my head then, but it did do many times since as the memory of the abuse ate away at my adult life.
But, I did eventually escape in May 1971.
My abuser had arranged a patrol leaders’ meeting at his house on the other side of town. It was a ‘must attend’ gathering.
I had met an older boy called Brian from another troop during a district jamboree and after one quick phone call we agreed to go together. Brian’s dad would take us there and my dad would pick us both up at 9pm.
At least with Brian I should be safe, I thought.
We arrived at this spacious detached bungalow in a quiet middle-class cul-de-sac on the other side of town at about 7pm and were ushered inside by my abuser. Others were arriving and by the time we were all assembled, there were about 10 boys aged between 13 and 15 in the semi-lit dining room.
The meeting was a blur. My mind was already in the forest. And in what seemed no time at all, parents were arriving to pick up their kids. Soon, just Brian and I remained silently while the clock ticked.
My abuser said he would make a cup of tea for us both and asked if we would like a biscuit too. Brian said ‘Yes’ for both of us.
Then as he walked down the hallway to his kitchen, Brian whispered to me: “Scarper… run!”
Without hesitation we both ran to the front door, fumbled at the latch and tore down the driveway to the cul-de-sac.
But, no sign of my fucking dad! Where the hell was he?
We could hear my abuser call out our names from his front doorway. Panic washed over us both and we ran as fast and as far away as we could.
We didn’t stop until we reached a red phone box on the outskirts of the town centre, about a mile away. We then stared at each other shaking. At that moment, I knew Brian was a victim too.
I rang my home phone number. Mum answered. But before I could say much, she berated me for being ‘so rude’ as to run away from the nice man’s house. She also chastised me for leaving her and my dad terrified for my safety.
She told me to stay at the phone box and when dad returned home she would send him out again to pick us up.
He did and when I eventually got home to the safety of my bedroom, I broke down and cried into my pillow all night long.
But that night was a watershed.
I had begun to face this demon, and by knowing that in Brian I was not alone, I felt somehow stronger than before.
From the following day I used every excuse I could find to avoid my abuser and never went back to the Scouts or camping again.
Even when my own troop leader – a mild mannered family guy called Ralph – called at our house to ask if I was okay, I managed to lie and stay safe.
My passion for football and school work helped mask the real reasons.
But the events of 1970-71 were just the beginning of the nightmare for me. My abuser’s smirking face and the smell of his stale sweat never leaves me.
And the fear of being alone is terrifying.
As I sit here writing and remembering, I still cannot untangle the many ways my life was ruined so completely in those 14 months.
I lived and grew through my mid-teens convinced I must be gay to have allowed a man to do the things my abuser did to me. I also lived in terror that either my parents, sisters, or worse still my school friends, would find out and I would become an object of ridicule.
Resultant behaviour patterns started to emerge: a need to control every aspect of my life and the social environment around me, outbursts of vocal anger, walking away from any situation which threatened my control, and as I turned 18, progressively heavy drinking.
The control aspect was – and still is – vital. For without it I feel vulnerable and frightened and unable to function normally. At home my behaviour often borders on OCD.
The chronology is compulsive.
Once away at university in the far flung mill town of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, I also had a driving inner need to prove I was ‘normal’ or straight!
Whereas a lot of young men ‘sow their oats’ in these late teenage years, I sowed more than most. I am not proud in any measure, but I bedded as many girls who would say ‘yes’ as I could, proving to myself I was ‘like all the rest’.
The relationships did not matter, for my selfish misogyny it was somehow healing to enjoy straight sex with a girl of my age.
I also needed female company. A fear of being unsafe and alone was constantly with me.
Eventually the need for a steadier relationship was also persuasive.
By the time I was 22-years-old I was engaged to a church-going Geordie girl who promised to always care for me.
By the age of 24, we were wed and moved into our own home together the day after the honeymoon.
It was a sadly inappropriate marriage of two polar opposites and lasted just eight years. My outbursts of vocal temper, deep introspection and a need to control my own life, plus an affair, did not help.
But I survived my first divorce – and by some cruel irony an 18 month battle with cancer which left my body as ragged as my emotions.
I tried to start over.
In 1990, aged 34, I moved to the west of Scotland and found a geographical escape from my past.
It involved burying myself in my job as a journalist on a small weekly newspaper alongside the tranquil and spiritually healing Loch Fyne.
Soon Atlantic seals, otters and osprey helped sooth my anger, which still smouldered beneath the surface.
Often working 12 hour days, prolonged success at work allowed me to control my life at last.
One year after moving north – in November 1991 – I met a young woman who told me of the sexual abuse she had suffered as a 14-year-old.
She added that I was the first person she had confided in.
I listened intently and reached out to her.
But, I could not share my abuse with her… it was still too terrifying to tell anyone close to me.
But, this was a strange epiphany and after consuming half a bottle of malt whisky I at last saw a possible way out.
A colleague at work was married to a local police officer. I quietly approached him a few days later while he was off duty and told him the barest details of my abuse.
He smiled grimly, put his hand on my shoulder and said; “Nic you are doing the right thing. These guys get away with it far too often.”
Within a couple of days he helped me lodge a formal complaint against my abuser via the Inspector at the local police station.
This older man took a lengthy statement from me which included as many details and names as I could remember.
He, in turn, passed on the complaint to Hertfordshire Constabulary and it was now a simple matter of waiting for the outcome of their own investigations.
I went home and waited in trepidation, wondering what might happen next and prepared to make the 400 mile drive south to face my parents if a court case was involved.
Two weeks passed before I was asked to attend the local police station to talk with the Inspector again.
I was visibly shaking all over. The balding senior officer invited me into an interview room at the back of the station, where he told me something I was not ready for… my abuser was dead!
He had died a few years earlier.
My heart felt like it would explode any second. I felt acid bile rising into my throat. I was unsure if I might faint or scream… I did neither.
So I walked zombie-like back to my office, barely able to talk with anybody.
How could my abuser be dead! How could he not face justice or retribution for what he had done?
How could I carry on?
The anger inside me was immense, festering, raging, burning.
The next few months were hard as I tried to keep a lid on my emotions. But rages came, tears and gloom overwhelmed and eventually in the summer of 1992, I walked out and left that part of Scotland for good.
The following 20 years were much like the previous 20, with black moods, multiple broken relationships and a growing need to drink to forget.
Only success at work allowed me to be my real self.
By 2003, I recognised that I was fast becoming an alcoholic. Alcoholics Anonymous was a temporary refuge and it allowed me to share my past in confidence with complete strangers.
And I began to control my drinking.
But life happens when you’re busy making other plans, and the sudden need to care as a single parent for my youngest child – who had only just turned four years – reinforced the desire to take control of life and at last start to live it with purpose as a sober dad.
In January 2006 I moved to North Wales to begin again, both at work and at home.
I needed to be close to family and more especially to my dad who was inexorably and slowly dying from Parkinson’s Disease.
Work had a solitary purpose as I edited a small but successful weekly newspaper. I had already edited other similar local papers years earlier and had twice taken them to win newspaper of the year awards.
This time it was treading water, but somehow enjoyable all the same. It allowed me stability for a full seven years and the flexibility and income to raise my son.
At work, stories came and went and along the way and I worked with and befriended some wonderful people.
I also wasted no opportunity to expose convicted child sex offenders whenever their cases came to light. Ironically the so-called ‘Paedo Files’ in North Wales seemed more expansive than anywhere else I had lived or worked. It was like an unsolicited cathartic therapy.
My empathy with the victims was immense. But still I could not share what remained buried for so long inside of me.
That was until the winter of 2009 – a year after my father had passed away – when I met one special person, who in hindsight became the catalyst I had waited almost a lifetime to meet.
Jay (not her real name) was damaged, just like me, and when we met she was emerging from the hell of a court case, which saw her father jailed for 10 years for the vile damage he had inflicted on her when she was a child.
Sadly, Jay’s and my relationship, which was always mutually caring, did not last.
I guess we were both too damaged and the time was wrong. But, for the first time she had allowed me to talk about my own abuse and open the door for what was to follow.
Three years later fate suddenly dealt me straight and I met my soul mate and soon to be wife, Gill. I shared everything with her and I found love and stability for the first time since I had turned 14.
Life was starting to have a meaning.
But just when life breathes in fresh air something unexpected takes the breath away and leaves it stale.
In June 2013, that something happened and sent my life into a complete tailspin. And to mix metaphors, the tailspin became a train crash.
While researching on-line for more information about a North Wales’ child sex abuse case which I was carrying in my newspaper, I had access to a privileged database, and decided to look for any lasting details about my own abuser.
It didn’t take long and the moment will stay with me forever.
I discovered that my abuser was indeed dead. But he had died late in 1996, aged 63… some five years AFTER the police told me he was already dead!
I double and triple checked my facts and it was there in black and white.
*** full details of the abuser’s identity will be revealed in my forthcoming book ***
Even now as I write this, I still cannot comprehend what happened.
Had the police in 1991 cocked up? Had they identified the wrong man? Or worse still was it a conspiracy to protect someone of importance in the local community or masonic lodge?
I guess I will never know, but I had been denied the justice and closure I had wanted all those years earlier.
The rages and tears returned like a tempest storm as I struggled to take back control.
Work was becoming poisonous and I felt undermined at every turn by junior bosses whose experience did not hold a candle to my own.
Suddenly I was losing control of my own newspaper, my sanity and my life.
Control was no longer mine.
On Wednesday 12 June 2013 I walked into my office to find that one of the younger editors, some 15 years my junior, had changed my front page, after I had gone to press – without any reference to me.
It was the day the elastic band finally snapped.
I flipped and with it my whole life lay on its back kicking into a nothingness.
I was later told it was a ‘nervous breakdown’.
That was almost three years ago and now as I write this I am, for the very first time, receiving professional help to deal with my demon and his lasting legacy.
He will never go away, nor will the pain, but I have a loving wife, a courageous and wonderful mother, a gorgeous young son and some truly amazing close friends, who all now know of my dark secret. And by sharing with them, I am slowly losing the need to control my life. It is liberating and I am recovering.
My mind drifts.
The smell of newly cut grass wafts into my senses.
I turn and walk away from the forest.
You hold my hand tightly and tell me you love me. Your bright eyes tell me it’s true.
We pass the beggar who smiles and says ‘hello’ and the ever turning planet glows an iridescent light blue.
The journey continues.