Why did clubs turn a blind eye to the shocking abuse of young footballers?
Searching Questions for City and Crewe over sordid case of Barry Bennell
Once again, the words of the 18th century political philosopher Edmund Burke seem all too poignantly relevant. For evil to triumph, it is enough for good men to do nothing. And a whole host of good men appear to have done nothing in the sordid case of Barry Bannell, who has now gone to prison – not for the first time – for 31 years.
Since he is reported to be suffering from cancer, I greatly doubt he will serve the whole or even a substantial part of that sentence.
On the alarming evidence we now have, it is all too obvious that people prominent in the game were aware of Bennell’s nefarious activities, yet they turned a blind eye or a deaf ear to them. Both Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra now face crippling damages which could run into millions.
City, with their billionaire owners, might well be able to rise the financial crisis out, but Crewe by comparison are very small fry. In the case of Crewe, I have been shocked and dismayed by the figure cut by Dario Gradi, who did so much so well on so little money when he ran Crewe Alexandra. It is on record that when Bennell was charged while coaching in the United States, Gradi wrote an open letter in Bennell’s defence. “Not once during that time have I ever received a complaint from a boy or his parents of a sexual nature.” Really? Gradi’s assertion is shocklingly contradicted by the account of a former Crewe director, Hamilton Smith who, so alarmed was he by Bennell’s activities that he twice called a board meeting, at one of which in Gradi’s own office, Gradi himself attended.
Manchester City were given abundant warning about Bennell who had three years as an unofficial scout. A devastating by an ex FA youth coach Steve Fleet has said, “It was general knowledge that Bennell was dodgy, You’d hear it on the coaching circuit. ‘Don’t touch him with a bargepole, there’s something not right about him.’ It was nauseating. The kids would all follow him. The way he spoke to them, it was like baby talk. He was too familiar with them.”
Fleet duly passed on his anxiety to the late Ken Barnes, then the club’s chief scout and previously a star midfielder. But it seems the buck stopped there.
In August 1995 when Bennell was indicted in the USA, Libby Senterfitt, the head of Florida’s special assault unit, wrote to Charles (long ball) Hughes at the FA with a warning about Bennell. This was acknowledged not by Hughes himself but by an assistant, and there the matter stayed. Hughes you will remember did serious damage to the English game during his regime with his propagation of outmoded cut-out-the-midfield tactics which emphasised something currently known as “The Position of Maximum Opportunity”.
Had Bennell had anything to do with the strange and sad suicide of the impressive Gary Speed, a much admired Welsh international who went on to become an excellent Wales team manager? His family insist that Bennell had nothing to do with his death, but for all the denials of Speed’s family the testimony of a young footballer seems sadly conclusive. Speaking of Bennell’s habit of taking two boys into his bed, he said, “On a few occasions, Gary was in the same bed. Barry would abuse one of us, then turn over and abuse the other.” So was Speed being abused? Answer: “100 per cent. Well, 99.9 per cent.”
Rochdale’s extraordinary 2-2 draw at home to Tottenham Hotspur, on the pitch which had cost them £500,000 to relay, proved that romance of the FA Cup is still not dead. The sheer electric drama of the very last added minutes of this game could hardly have been surpassed. One moment Spurs, who were obliged to bring both Harry Kane and Dele Alli on to reinforce a previously weakened team, seemed to have the game done and dusted, however unsatisfactorily, when Rochdale conceded and Kane converted the penalty. A legitimate decision, but one which seemed to guarantee the game would end in anti-climax.
The father of all competitions, the FA Cup remains gloriously and excitingly alive, for all the tendency of so many misguided teams to snub it by fielding weakened sides.