Why the beautiful game is exactly not that


The footballing community has been rocked by the child sex abuse scandal, with over 55 clubs allegedly implicated and 18 police forces investigating complaints of historical sexual abuse.

Neil Walton, an account manager at Deep South Media, reflects on the role of the media and communications professionals in dealing with difficult scenarios such as historical child sex abuse at football clubs.


Imagine this.

You’re a parent, dropping your kids off to football training before a big away game the next day.

Their coach is taking care of travel and the players will all stay the night before travelling together tomorrow.

You have no reason to suspect that something sinister is to happen that evening, something that will devastate their lives.

It transpires, some 20 or 30 years later, that the players’ coach, their footballing role model, in a position of trust and power, is the very person to have sexually abused your child and possibly several others.

Only the victims knew, suffering in terrible silence.

Reports of historical child sex abuse flooded the dedicated NSPCC football hotline in its first week, with over 860 calls made and 350 people alleging they had been abused.

A total of 18 police forces are investigating some 55 clubs linked to the allegations.

Questions spin around your head. How could this have happened? Why didn’t anyone speak out about this sooner? What is your club doing about it?

Rightfully, many parents in this situation would seek immediate, detailed answers and statements from those in high authority at the clubs in question.

Premier League clubs will have a legion of PR professionals at work to issue statements for worried parents and take into sensitive consideration the feelings of those who have reported sexual abuse.

Even clubs with nothing to hide may well need to issue statements to diffuse any speculation wrongly surrounding them.

But what of the grassroots clubs?

What should they say to parents and players young and old in the game? How should they phrase the wording and what social media channels should they use?

One course of action would be to call in regional communication professionals.

However, the danger is that the information relayed by each club to the communicator, who acts in good faith, may be unreliable and misleading.

This is the point – the sickening scandal is wrecking trust in the entire football ecosystem, from the youngsters themselves to the adults who are meant to keep them safe.

How can we be sure what we are being told is factually correct?

We can only hope that all perpetrators are brought to justice – that the truth will out.