How were these deplorable acts ever allowed to happen?
“The club apologises unreservedly for the terrible past experiences of some of our former players.”– Official apology from Chelsea Football Club
This apology is just a small portion of the damning report that was recently released, showing the true, horrific extent of what young Chelsea players endured under former chief scout Eddie Heath in the 1970s.
Heath, who passed away in 1983, groomed and abused young boys at the club between the ages of 10-17, being targeted for years by a “prolific and manipulative sexual abuser”, who was reportedly able to operate ‘unchallenged’.
The abuse was considered so severe by the external review – an independent two-and-a-half year investigation that was led by barrister Charles Geekie, who was appointed by Chelsea to oversee the enquiry – it was deemed some adults at Chelsea had ‘turned a blind eye’.
The report, which highlighted evidence from 23 witnesses, detailed a disturbing pattern of sexual abuse existed within the game in the 70s and 80s. The report was highly critical of former Chelsea assistant manager and long-serving Crewe Alexander manager, Dario Gradi.
Gradi is accused in the report of failing to report Heath’s sexual conduct, despite being made aware of Heath’s misconduct by a young players’ parent. The report also accuses Gradi of meeting the boys father to try and ‘smooth it over’, an accusation that Gradi has vigorously denied.
Heath was employed by Chelsea from 1968 until he was sacked in 1979 before being sacked by former England striker and World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst for “footballing reasons”. But when it comes to his time at the club, as far as the review was able to establish, Heath was never investigated nor charged with any offences before his death.
One witness in the report describes that Heath was known as ‘Nightmare Eddie’ by scared youth team players, with many other witnesses being scared of Heath’s imposing physical stature and the power he exuded because of his role at the club.
Gradi, currently suspended by the Football Association and also facing significant questions about the Barry Bennell scandal at Crewe, has subsequently been accused by Geekie of giving evidence to the review panel that was “somewhat unlikely and unconvincing”.
“The complaint about Mr Heath was not referred to more senior members of the club and an opportunity to prevent Mr Heath from going on to abuse others was lost.'”– Charles Geekie QC on Dario Gradi
Someone that was looking on from afar at the outcome of the independent inquiry was Andy Woodward, a former Crewe and Bury player in the 1990s, who was at the forefront of the Bennell scandal.
Being sexually abused by Bennell – later convicted as a paedophile – who himself was sentenced to 31 years in prison last year for sexually abusing young boys, Woodward felt that waiving his right to anonymity to talk about the abuse they suffered was the right thing to do.
“At last after years of torment that I suffer with everyday, still having panic attacks and depression leaving me feeling lost. I personally feel some justice that someone has identified what really happened”.– Andy Woodward, on the report being released to the public
Bennell was a coach at Gresty Road at the time Woodward was coming through the youth system, with Gradi also being at Crewe at this time, denying any knowledge of knowing about Bennell’s ‘predatory’ behaviour towards the younger players at the club.
Despite this, former Liverpool and England international Danny Murphy, an academy graduate at Crewe, jumped to the defence of Gradi, referring to the 78-year-old as “amazing” and “generous”.
“I believe that if he (Gradi) had known what Barry Bennell had been doing, he would have put a stop to it”.– Danny Murphy on Dario Gradi
Gradi has refused to comment on the recent report, but is seen by many as a disturbing common denominator in the sexual abuse scandal which rocked ‘the beautiful game’ in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Earlier this year, Woodward bravely released his harrowing autobiography titled ‘A Position of Trust: A Football Dream Betrayed’. This emotional and harrowing book details the sickening abuse Andy and others were made to experience at the hands of Barry Bennell.
Christina Gabbitas, honorary member of the NSPCC Council, spoke about Woodward’s experience and had nothing but praise and support him for coming out and revealing the truth.
“It’s stories like Andy’s that encouraged me to write a story that could encourage children to speak out and never feel that they are alone. The ‘Share Some Secrets’ book is doing just that.”
(‘Share Some Secrets’ is available via the NSPCC – which is also helping them to raise funds to help children who have been a victim of abuse.)
To this day, Andy continues to speak out bravely about what he’s been through. By speaking out, he has helped many other former professional footballers who were victims of abuse when they were younger. Despite the harrowing ordeal Andy has experienced, he is now trying to help others who are suffering with mental health issues.
Andy has joined the project ‘Depresson‘. The founder of this project Colin Radcliffe, together with Andy are planning and raising money for the completion of the mobile application that would be available publically.
The project is designed to support people currently suffering and without a shadow of a doubt, a wonderful project.
Anyone who feels like they are suffering in silence and need help, please contact Andy or Colin via Twitter – @Andywoodward44 & @depresson2 – or you can contact them through their website www.depresson.co.uk
What they are doing is truly wonderful and will no doubt help many people suffering with issues of mental health.
As an outcome of the report, Chelsea released a statement, apologising for the “terrible past experiences of some of our former players” and said their own “exhaustive investigation” would “ensure that abhorrent abuse like this can never happen again”. The club also made sure to being committed to assessing compensation claims for victims.
Dario Gradi is still being financially rewarded – suspended, on full pay, as the technical director at Crewe – for his contribution to youth football.
Which is completely unacceptable. From here on out, Gradi should be made not just by Crewe Alexandra, by also the FA and the game in general, to have to live for what happened… like the young men he betrayed, have had to…
All by himself.