Hour by hour and day by day, English football is sinking lower and lower into a deep, dark pit. Every television bulletin, every newspaper edition, every press of the refresh button brings forth an horrific story of a boy who dreamed of being a footballer and whose life was ruined. A dam has burst and a mighty torrent of despair is pouring through it.

And the Football Association have set up a helpline. And the FA chairman, Greg Clarke, when he was asked if the FA had let down the victims, said: "I don't believe so."

And Crewe Alexandra, the club where Barry Bennell was left to indulge his voracious appetite for children for year after terrifying year, squirms and dissembles and wriggles and hides.

And a couple of decades too late, it announces "an independent review of the way the club dealt with historical child abuse allegations", cravenly allowing its senior officials to remain in their posts.


And Dario Gradi, the mastermind of Crewe's much-vaunted youth system for 30 years and still the club's director of football, says the chairman has told him to "keep out of it".

Ah, yes. Keep out of it. Football's mantra when it comes to secrets like this. The FA did that back in the day. When the investigative reporter Deborah Davies approached the FA's then director of coaching and education, Charles Hughes, outside Lancaster Gate in 1996 and asked whether his organisation should bring in rules to protect children, he walked past her as if she wasn't there. "I don't believe so" sounds rather empty doesn't it?

Maybe football still wants to keep out of it. Let's be honest about this: its response to the heart-breaking revelations of widespread sexual abuse in the English game in the 80s and 90s made by Andy Woodward, Paul Stewart, David White and others in the last 10 days has been tepid.

A helpline is a good idea but it is less than the absolute bare minimum expected of the FA. It is like trying to apply a sticking plaster to a gaping exit wound.

Why hasn't it begun an immediate investigation into Crewe? Maybe because it would have to take a long hard look at itself as well?

Do they not appreciate what is happening here? The events of the last 10 days are plunging the English game into one of the worst crises in its history. It is beginning to seem as if football betrayed a generation of players by looking the other way as monsters roamed free. The game will not escape the past this time. The past has caught up with it now and it will have its vengeance and it will get its justice.

There will be criminal charges. Teams will face punitive and sweeping claims for compensation. Clubs with proud histories and loyal fans, clubs who have clung to survival for years, may go to the wall over this. The landscape of the game will change.

Andy Woodward, right, was the first person to come forward and talk about sexual abuse in football. Photo / Twitter / @AndyWoodward2
Andy Woodward, right, was the first person to come forward and talk about sexual abuse in football. Photo / Twitter / @AndyWoodward2

Why aren't more people in football angry about what was allowed to happen? Why can't the FA grasp what is happening here? They spent more time pontificating about Wayne Rooney having a few drinks at a wedding party than they have spent talking about sexual abuse that went unchecked in the sport they are supposed to govern.

What a sad, sick metaphor for our image-obsessed game.

The FA's chief executive Martin Glenn was all over the wedding party issue. It didn't set a great tone, he said, of the pictures of Rooney at The Grove. Well, forgive me, but brave, brave ex-footballers reliving stories of shattered lives in print and on television, choking back tears, doesn't set a great tone, either. The FA need to get out there and show some leadership.

Football is not doing enough. Nowhere near enough. Where is the rage that the scale of abuse was hushed up? Why are men like Clarke not holding up their hands and saying that, of course, the FA bear some responsibility for what happened?

Let's get real about this: English football protected Bennell. Looking the other way. Several of his victims have already said that. A Crewe director has appeared to confirm it. Football indulged Bennell in the same way the BBC never chose to confront Jimmy Savile. And football has never paid the price for what it did. Sure, after Bennell was convicted in 1998 and sent to jail for nine years, football took steps to try to make sure a man like him could never spread his evil in the game again. But it never called the other guilty men to account. It never dealt with those who turned a blind eye.

Chris Unsworth began in Manchester City's youth ranks before moving to Crewe. Photo / BBC
Chris Unsworth began in Manchester City's youth ranks before moving to Crewe. Photo / BBC

Football never dealt with those who moved Bennell on, allowing him to wreak more havoc on innocent lives, rather than face the embarrassment and the collateral damage of admitting that he had been allowed to flourish at their club. Many clubs have questions to answer. Many more are set to be implicated.

On Saturday, there were claims that some teams had bought off the families of victims in order to hush up abuse and protect their image.

Hampshire Police have opened an investigation into abuse at clubs in their area. The same with the Metropolitan Police. And Northumbria Police. And Cheshire Police. Given that Crewe have more questions to answer than any other club, their reaction so far has been desultory. They have fallen somewhere between utterly disrespectful to their former players and downright disgusting.

A sign for the sports academy of the English soccer team Crewe Alexandra at the Alexandra Stadium, in Crewe. Photo / AP
A sign for the sports academy of the English soccer team Crewe Alexandra at the Alexandra Stadium, in Crewe. Photo / AP

First of all, Crewe tried to put up a wall. They said "No comment". They said they would see how things "unravelled". When things did indeed unravel, their responses, including those of Gradi, were so begrudging they verged on delusional.

The FA should already be calling Crewe to account. Everyone at the club should be begging forgiveness for what happened. They should also be expecting to be hit with severe sanctions for Bennell's actions.

Their fans may suffer because of the inaction of those who should have known better. The club's future is uncertain. These might be historic crimes but some of the men in senior positions when Bennell was operating out of Crewe are still there.

They should not be there for much longer. They should be scribbling out letters of resignation as fast as they can and seeing if they can submit them before they get fired or charged by the FA. Then they should await the rest of the consequences.

This is not a club who have failed to register a player for a cup replay. This is a club where an employee ruined the lives of countless young players in their care. This is a club where an employee launched a sexual attack on a child. This is a club that presided over one of the most despicable episodes in the history of English football. The idea that they should escape scrutiny and punishment for that is absurd.

Hamilton Smith, who served on the Crewe board from 1986 to early 1990, said that, even after concerns had been raised about Bennell at a high level of the club, Gradi made it clear he did not have any problem with Bennell and he stayed on at the club for a number of years.

In a 1996 Dispatches documentary, Gradi said there was "never any cause for concern" about boys staying at the house of the youth-team coach. That was a disastrous misjudgment.

The past is another country but Woodward, Stewart, White and others marched English football back across its border last week and led it to some of its darkest valleys to show it where the secrets dwelled. As new horrors emerge, it feels as if it is an awful long way back to the light.

Two ex-England internationals are among those allegedly molested:

1 Paul Stewart
Started his career at Blackpool. Went on to play for Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool before spells at Crystal Palace, Wolves, Burnley, Sunderland, Stoke and Workington. Won three England caps under Graham Taylor.

2 David White
Joined Manchester City's youth system from Salford Boys. Scored 79 goals in 286 appearances for City before less successful spells at Leeds and Sheffield United. Won one England cap against Spain in 1992.

3 Andy Woodward
Played for Crewe, Bury, Sheffield United, Scunthorpe and Halifax. Later became a police officer. Has extended family living in NZ.

4 Jason Dunford
Played for one of Manchester City's nursery teams before moving to a number of other boys' clubs. Never played professionally.

Jason Dunford played for one of Manchester City's nursery teams. Photo / BBC
Jason Dunford played for one of Manchester City's nursery teams. Photo / BBC

5 Steve Walters

Made his first-team debut for Crewe at 16 years and 119 days in May 1988 and still holds the record for the club's youngest player. Won promotion from Division Three in 1994 but a year later dropped into non-League with Northwich, Morecambe, Stevenage, Kidsgrove Athletic and Rhyl.

6 Chris Unsworth
Began in Manchester City's youth ranks before moving to Crewe aged 12. Left football aged 16 to became a professional golfer and is now an undertaker.

A general view outside of the English soccer team Crewe Alexandra's Alexandra Stadium. Photo / AP
A general view outside of the English soccer team Crewe Alexandra's Alexandra Stadium. Photo / AP



Barry Bennell, the former Crewe coach, was sentenced to four years in prison in the United States after pleading guilty to six counts of sexual assault, including the rape of a boy, while coaching Staffordshire side Stone Dominoes during their youth tour of Florida.

1997: Bennell was unmasked when he was the subject of an English television programme called Dispatches. One victim, Ian Ackley, waived his right to anonymity to say he'd been repeatedly raped by Bennell.

1998: Bennell was found guilty at Chester Crown Court in England in 1998 of 23 offences against six boys, aged from nine to 15, and was sentenced to nine years in jail.

2001: Former Crewe director Hamilton Smith, who had concerns about the youth set-up at the club, said he he had asked the English FA to carry out an investigation into the club's care of children. Tony Pickerin, the FA's head of education and child protection at the time, replied that the FA had 'investigated the issues and is satisfied that there is no case to answer'.

2015: Bennell was given a further sentence in 2015 when he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing another boy at a camp in Macclesfield in 1980.

November 16 Former Bury and Sheffield United player Andy Woodward, 43, reveals that from the age of 11 he was subjected to four years of sexual assault by Barry Bennell while at Crewe Alexandra.

November 22 Steve Walters, 44, who in 1988 became the club's youngest debutant, also claims he was sexually abused by Bennell while at Crewe.

November 23 Former England and Tottenham footballer Paul Stewart, 52, breaks his silence, claiming he was sexually abused as a youth player. Stewart, who began his professional career with Blackpool and also played for Manchester City and Liverpool, claims that an unnamed coach - not Bennell - abused him daily for four years. Former Manchester City striker David White, 49, alleges he was also sexually abused by Bennell in the late 70s and early 80s, while playing for Whitehill FC junior team in Manchester.

November 24 The NSPCC says a hotline set up in the wake of the revelations receives more than 50 calls in the first two hours. Four police forces are now investigating allegations of historical child sex abuse in football.

November 24 The police force in Northumberland say they have received a complaint from a former Newcastle United player, claiming he was abused by George Ormond, a man who has already had a six-year prison sentence for a string of convictions involving boys from the club's youth system over a 24-year period. The allegations were understood to relate to Ormond's time prior to his spell in charge of Newcastle United's youth team, which were among the offences he was convicted of in 2002.

November 25 Two other footballers, Jason Dunford and Chris Unsworth, neither of whom turned professional, say they were abused by Bennell as youth players at Crewe.