Crewe Alexandra have apologised to all the survivors of Barry Bennell’s abuse, expressing “wholehearted regret” that the club were unaware of the sexual crimes committed by the former coach.
Bennell is serving a 34-year jail term for abusing boys between 1979 and 1991 while at Crewe and Manchester City.
Crewe said they acknowledge “more could have been done to monitor” Bennell.
The admission follows an independent review into historical child sexual abuse in football.
Crewe said that even with the review, they “may still not have got to the truth of any matters at that time” and that they are “sorry to every survivor of abuse”.
On Wednesday, an independent review found that former Crewe manager Dario Gradi – who has been suspended from football since 2016 “for safeguarding reasons” – “should have done more” to investigate concerns about paedophile Bennell when he worked at the club as a youth coach.
It added that Gradi was not involved in a cover-up.
Apology ‘another kick in the teeth’
Chris Unsworth, an ex-Manchester City youth player who was abused by Bennell from the age of nine, criticised Crewe’s apology.
Unsworth tweeted: “What sort of a statement is that? Talk about yet another kick in the teeth to all the survivors that were associated to this shambolic football club. IMO [in my opinion] they should be thrown out of the league.”
The Offside Trust, a group set up by survivors for survivors of childhood sexual abuse in sport, said that “Crewe’s belated statement is welcomed ‘if’ it is indeed sincere”.
A statement from the Trust continued: “We are pleased to see the club finally say ‘sorry’, shame it has been delivered in such cold, mealy-mouthed, legalistic fashion.
“The emphasis on their lack of culpability makes it sound almost begrudging.”
The Offside Trust has requested the removal of Gradi’s MBE, which he was made in 1998 for services to football.
League One side Crewe have previously said they were not aware of any sexual abuse by Bennell until 1994 when he was first convicted of sexual assault, and did not receive a single complaint about sexual abuse by him.
The Football Association-commissioned report by Clive Sheldon QC said: “It is likely that three directors of Crewe Alexandra FC discussed concerns about Bennell which hinted at his sexual interest in children.
“There is no evidence that the advice of a senior police officer to the club’s former chairman to keep a ‘watching brief’ on Bennell was heeded.”
In a statement, the club said that if they had “any suspicion or belief” of Bennell’s abuse at any time “they would have informed the police immediately”.
“The club is truly sorry if there were in fact any warning signs that ought to have led the club to do more,” Crewe added.
“The club fully understands the additional hurt and trauma to the victims and survivors of Mr Bennell which has been caused by the fact that no one at the club was aware of the offences being committed upon them at the time.”
Crewe added that they “wish to make it absolutely clear” that they “sincerely regret” and are “disgusted by the terrible crimes committed” by Bennell.
The report, which focused on the abuse of children between 1970 and 2005, found “significant institutional failings” by the Football Association meant it “did not do enough to keep children safe”.
Crewe’s statement added: “The report of Clive Sheldon rightly acknowledges that for most of the period of Mr Bennell’s and others’ offending, there was little or no guidance on child protection available to those working in sport or society in general.”