Three ex-footballers launch Offside Trust to support victims of sexual abuse

Three former players who have said they were sexually abused at the start of their careers have called on professional football to back a new, independent trust that will "fight for justice" and support victims.

The Offside Trust, which is fronted by former Crewe players Andy Woodward and Steve Walters and ex-Manchester City youth player Chris Unsworth, is asking for donations from the English Football League, Football Association, Premier League, Professional Footballers' Association and commercial organisations that profit from the game.

Speaking at the trust's launch in Manchester, Woodward said: "We are fighting for justice. We have all been through it and we just want justice."

It was Woodward's powerful interview with The Guardian last month that opened the floodgates on a scandal that has now spread throughout the UK.

In a press release for the trust, Woodward added: "The sheer size and scale of the problem is illustrated by the fact that over 860 victims have come forward in the last few days.

"It is clear that abuse has existed on a major scale for many years. This trust does not just relate to football but also relates to other sports."

Andy Woodward
(Peter Byrne/PA)

The trust will be supported by Prosperity Law, a Manchester-based firm that specialises in child abuse.

Prosperity Law's Edward Smethurst explained that his firm was working on a pro bono basis as it has in the past on other causes, such as the Madeleine McCann foundation.

Smethurst said the trust's three founding directors were Unsworth, Walters and Woodward, but he has spoken to other former players who claim to have suffered sexual abuse at clubs as youngsters and they are "actively considering" joining the board.

"The purpose of the trust is to urge people to come forward," said Smethurst.

"We're not the establishment, we're independent and completely transparent. People can come forward in confidence."

Steve Walters, Andy Woodward, Gordon Burns and Edward Smethurst at the launch of the Offside Trust
(Peter Byrne/PA)

Both Smethurst and Woodward acknowledged the FA's recent moves to address the issue of child protection but questioned the rigour of the inquiry the governing body has asked Kate Gallafent QC to lead on its behalf.

"We would call for a completely independent and transparent inquiry because clearly mistakes have been made in the past - it needs a thorough, truly independent investigation," said Smethurst.

"We're not making any allegations about any organisation today but it may well be that some constructive criticism comes out of that review about certain establishment bodies."

Steve Walters
(Peter Byrne/PA)

Walters, who made his debut for Crewe aged 16 in 1988, called on more high-profile players to back their campaign.

"It's happening everywhere down the years," he said.

"The bravado in football has to stop. We need more help, publicity and support from high-profile sports people.

"You think about how many pro or ex footballers there are, so please come ahead and support us."

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