In light of the child sexual abuse allegations raised by former players, League Two club Crewe Alexandra have announced that they will be launching an independent review. Laura Jones asks whether the Railwaymen chose sporting glory and profit over safeguarding their young players.
Growing up watching football in the nineties, Crewe Alexandra were always lauded as a place where youth players thrived. Dario Gradi’s talent factory was recognised across the industry with names like David Platt, Robbie Savage and Danny Murphy passing through the conveyor belt of coaching excellence.
Gradi is a coaching phenomenon and was even awarded an MBE for services to football but now his name is besmirched by the allegations raised by former players about ex-Alex coach Barry Bennell, another coach who was also seen as a “star-maker.”
Whilst Gradi strongly denies any involvement or knowledge of his crimes, Crewe’s independent review will look into how the club dealt with previous allegations and suggestions from former board members that Bennell’s inappropriate sleepovers at his home were well known at the club.
It’s all well and good navel-gazing now about who could have reported what and when. The FA have also appointed a barrister to manage an inquiry into other allegations emerging at more clubs. For victims, though, the damage is already done. These independent reviews have to include serious questions about whether clubs put sporting prowess above the safety of their young players? Crewe Alexandra, for example, were either naive about the situation or turned a blind eye as long as the academy was thriving.
According to David Conn’s book, The Beautiful Game, Gradi was handed a controversial 10-year contract whereby he would receive a percentage of the player transfer fees. Young players chose to go to Crewe over higher-ranking clubs because of his record but did their business model of profiteering from youth make it a good breeding ground for an intelligent and devious predator like Bennell?
If the main source of income for the club was transfer fees which according to The Guardian by 2014 was an estimated £32 million, the pressure to keep churning out these players may have led them to ignore any potential warning signs.
The frightening truth of this scandal is that access to talented children appears to be easier for paedophiles. Trusting individuals because they have connections to potential fame and fortune is exactly how Jimmy Saville thrived in his perversions. Being focused on the end result made these children more susceptible and, on occasions, more willing to be groomed for greatness.
As a magnet for the talented boys of the North West, Crewe Alexandra now finds itself at the centre of a heinous scandal and one that could undo their good reputation for being a Football League success story.
These men deserve answers.