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The Offside Trust: Why Sport’s most important incentive deserves more recognition

Monday 20th February 2017
Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Chris Unsworth are three footballers who said they were sexually abused at the start of their careers. Their bravery in speaking out about their experiences in their careers has been one of the saddest yet heroic acts in sport, let alone football.

Woodward, was the first former player to go public in November last year in an interview with The Guardian, when he revealed he was abused by former coach, Barry Bennell.

The incidents alleged to have happened between the ages of 11 and 15 whilst Woodward was a member of Crewe Alexander's youth system.

After appearing for sides such as Bury and Sheffield United, the 43-year-old retired from professional football aged 29, in 2002 following a series of panic attacks.

His brave story, which involved Bennell marrying his sister as well as, admission into wanting to commit suicide, gave many other former professionals the courage to speak out about their experiences.

Ex-Manchester City youth player Unsworth was an example of this and he spoke bravely on the Victoria Derbyshire show about how he felt he was abused by Bennell from the age of nine.

Walters was present on the show too, he alleged the abuse began at the age of 12 when he would stay at Bennell's house in the town during the school holidays.

The trio decided to come together and launch "The Offside Trust” to support victims and promote the cause of safeguarding others.

During the week, Charlton Athletic became the 60th side out of the 92 Football League and Premier League teams to support the incentive on Twitter.

However, out of those meaning 32 sides, the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City are among those who have not as yet.

In addition, the trust needs more support from current professional footballers. Joey Barton, Jay Rodriguez, Jamie Vardy, Charlie Adam, Christian Fuchs, Lewis Cook and Jordan Pickford are among the very few Premier League players who have followed the Offside Trust and have tweeted about their objectives.

Given that the trust has been set up to raise awareness of not only those who have claimed to be abused or even witnessed the abuse, but also to aim to protect those who are currently involved in the game to ensure it never occurs, it seems a sad sight to see very few supporting it.

In a further article for the Guardian last week, Walters spoke about his desire to see more footballers giving their support for the trust.

“We still need more modern-day footballers to support us because there are about 10 to 15 and that's it. It does disappoint you a little bit,” he said in an interview with Amy Lawrence.
It's absolutely vital. We need moral support to start off with. There are other victims out there that need to feel they can come forward.”
The bravery shown by these former professionals has led to more victims speaking out including former England players, Paul Stewart and David White.

Nevertheless, there should be no taboo within the subject and the very fact they are calling for support for it is concerning.

Therefore, it is imperative that the Offside Trust gets the recognition that it deserves for the tremendous work they have already achieved in making sure that nothing like this ever occurs again in the beautiful game.
Greg Stubley
Greg graduated with a first in Sports Journalism from the University of Brighton in Summer 2016 and has already managed to gain experience in the industry, working for companies such as Charlton Athletic and talkSPORT. Greg is currently the regular commentator on Charlton's "CAFCPlayerHD" service, bringing full-match live commentary along with Terry Smith of Addicks' games up and down the country for subscribers to listen.

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