Chelsea Football Club on Saturday “apologised profusely” to Gary Johnson who alleges that he was abused while a youth player there in the 1970s.
The London club said Johnson had “suffered unacceptably” and that it was now “absolutely determined to do the right thing” by players affected by the football sexual abuse scandal.
“If further evidence is uncovered we will ensure that we help victims in any way we can,” the club said in a statement.
Chelsea said an external review would take place to look at how the club handled Johnson’s complaint which the club was notified of by a law firm in 2014, and “how we can improve our procedures in future”.
Johnson alleges he was sexually assaulted by former chief scout Eddie Heath and that he was paid £50,000 not to go public. Heath died in the 1980s.
When made aware of Johnson’s complaint, Chelsea said it was claimed Heath had “other inappropriate relationships” with young boys at the club, but “no names were given to us”.
“When dealing with this matter, the club operated on the basis that the incidents occurred in the 1970s and Heath had died in the early 1980s. Accordingly, Heath was no longer a risk to children. The extent to which the club should, notwithstanding this, have commenced a more detailed investigation and reported it to the Premier League and FA is an issue that will be addressed in detail in the club’s external law firm review,” the statement reads.
The club went on to defend itself against the “significant scrutiny” it had received over having a confidentiality clause in Johnson’s settlement, saying at the time “the Board understood it was a usual practice”.
“More recently, against the current backdrop of wider revelations and other victims coming forward bravely to tell their story, we no longer felt it appropriate to keep the confidentiality agreement in place. It was therefore removed,” the club wrote.
It said the review would also look at “best practice for settling claims of this nature in the future”.
“In advance of that, however, the Board would like to make clear that, in light of what we know now about the widescale abuse in football clubs in the 1970s and 1980s, it now believes that the use of such a clause while understandable was inappropriate in this instance. We certainly have no desire to hide any historic abuse we uncover from view. Quite the opposite.”
The statement comes after former Chelsea player Alan Hudson said it was common knowledge that Heath “was a danger to us youngsters”, the Guardian reported, and as reports surfaced that a former employee of Southampton FC accused of abusing young players in the 1980s was still working in the sport.
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme said it understood the former staff member left Southampton after concerns were raised regarding his behaviour towards members of the club’s youth team.
The football abuse scandal began with former player Andy Woodward speaking out about abuse he had suffered as a young player.
But two week on, 18 police forces are investigating leads from at least 350 alleged victims and the NSPCC children’s charity is dealing with 1,000 reports to a hotline.
The NSPCC hotline is available 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642