SCOTLAND: Football is now a big business. But behind some of the world’s biggest clubs lie some dark, murky secrets, including a sexual abuse ring which operated over the course of nearly three decades in the UK. Gary Johnston with the latest about the ever growing scandal inflicting Celtic FC.
“Football,” said legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, “is like socialism.”
“Everyone working for the same goals, everyone having a share of the rewards. People dealing with people, people helping people.”
Sadly, whilst that may have been true in the 1960’s when he made those comments – and frankly Mr Shankly, even then it was a dubious claim – it’s impossible to believe it holds water today.
Football, in reality, is like the worst form of capitalism. Uncaring, inequitable, exploitative and consummately undemocratic.
Football clubs are businesses. And the biggest clubs are the biggest business. With few, if any, exceptions they are owned by individuals and groups typified by unsavoury backgrounds, questionable reputations and nefarious practices.
Whether it’s grotesquely rich Arab potentates: Manchester City, Russian oligarchs: Chelsea, perfidious sportswear barons: Newcastle FC or porn kings: West Ham United, the one thing club owners have in common is the wealth of Croesus and the humanity of Vlad the Impaler.
Of course, it’s not all about straight out profit. Well it is, but in high finance, revenue is more complicated than a healthy bank balance.
For example, Manchester United, owned by Malcolm Glazer, a shady American real estate developer – is there any other kind?- are currently carrying a debt of around 400 million pounds thanks to loans provided by American hedge funds, on which the club and by association the fans, are paying interest at nearly 17%. The fiscal ramifications of such an arrangement are labyrinthine but it’s safe to assume that somebody somewhere is making coin and it isn’t the average United fan with his replica shirt and inner London, or for that matter, Outer Mongolian postcode.
Why does this matter? Well, apart from ethical considerations and the fact worldwide poverty is ever increasing, with the gap between the haves and have nots growing wider by the day, football is, as Shankly said, actually about people dealing with people. As such therefore, shouldn’t decisions and deliberations, even in business, be based on the principles of humanity and togetherness?
The people, the ones who truly matter, are the aforementioned fans, who bankroll the entire operation and the players, who provide the entertainment through their skill, endeavour and physical commitment.
Sure, those players, the top ones at any rate, are well numerated for their work, but this is merely the tip of the iceberg, underneath, the game is littered with casualties, players who, for various reasons didn’t make the cut and as a result, were tossed aside like so much unwanted packaging.
It’s well known that top clubs seek out potential talent at the earliest opportunity, signing gifted children en masse, some as young as seven years old, with the promise of fame and riches, a prospect their families, many of whom live in distressed circumstances, see as being the key to eventual affluence and subsistence.
Such a happenstance is highly seductive, a fact which the unscrupulous eagerly recognise, with tiny boys and indeed girls, now penning long-term contracts with agents, managers and coaches whose high percentage take is often at variance with their low sense of commitment and responsibility.
IF YOU VALUE OUR JOURNALISM PLEASE SUBSCRIBE & HELP KEEP US ALIVE! WE DO THIS ALL UNFUNDED & IN OUR FEW SPARE MOMENTS. WE NEED 2,000 SUBSCRIBERS TO BE SUSTAINABLE. HELP US REACH OUR GOAL. WE ONLY NEED A FEW HUNDRED MORE OF YOU!
Regular readers of True Crime News Weekly will be aware of the horrific sexual abuse instances in British football, evidenced by the experience of, amongst many others, Andy Woodward, a genuine prospect whose career and ultimately mental health, was destroyed by his molestation at the hands of disgraced and now imprisoned youth coach Barry Bennell.
Bennell, a highly influential figure in football, used his reputation as a star maker to violate hundreds of young boys, grooming them and their families with the promise of a lucrative career in the game, a front for his ulterior motives, the opportunity to rape and degrade children whose only crime was to be talented and aspirant.
As reported in an interview with Andy Woodward on this website, Bennell established a line of communication with other youth coaches, leading to speculation of the existence of a pedophile cabal in football, young players being shared out for despicable criminal purposes, often it’s alleged, with the tacit tolerance of club officials and staff.
This week, in the UK, a television documentary produced by Channel 4 has investigated these allegations with strong evidence emerging that there was, indeed, a sexual abuse ring at work over the course of nearly three decades.
At the heart of the ring, so it appears was Celtic Boys Club, an unofficial feeder organisation for the Scottish premiership giants, many of whose coaches, including the notorious Jim Torbett and Frank Cairney have actually been convicted and incarcerated by the Scottish courts for child sexual abuse offences.
True Crime News Weekly – who broke the Celtic Boys Club story in Australia over a year ago in January 2019 – speculated at the time whether such errant behaviour had also been apparent in local sporting clubs, a question we continue to pose.
A number of determined individuals have led the campaign to have Celtic FC acknowledge the abuse perpetrated in their name, in particular the tireless Michelle and Helene Gray, whose brother and son Andrew was one of Jim Torbett’s many victims.
Put simply, the campaign’s purpose was to have Celtic accept their moral and legal responsibility, given that the Boy’s Club was, as everyone in the game knows, an affiliated, albeit unofficial, organisation.
Despite numerous comments from the club, expressing tea and sympathy, Celtic FC have consistently refused to accept their liability, for reasons which are all too obvious to anyone with even a passing interest in football. Money.
Acknowledging complicity will lead to compensation claims, an understandable course of action for the literally hundreds of victims and survivors, most now in early and late middle aged, a significant proportion of whom continue to be traumatised by their experience, with many documented instances of associated addiction, self harm and suicide.
One of the main calls by the Gray family is for the imposition of a comprehensive, independent enquiry and, after years of campaigning, a report called ‘An Independent Review of Sexual Abuse in Scottish Football’ is imminent.
It is understood however, that the report does not make comment on the issues of financial liability or compensation as it ‘is not within the terms of reference the review team has been working to’.
The review chairmen has also stated in a statement, that the situation in Celtic is only one of many such events referenced in the report and that the review team are “completely focussed on making football a safe place for children and young people”.
This of course, is to be wholly welcomed but Celtic’s continued insistence that the Boys Club and the Celtic FC were ‘entirely separate entities’ doubtless has its genesis in a fear that, in the words of the Channel Four reporter, the report and its fallout could ultimately “cost Celtic millions”, a claim based on precedents established in the UK civil court of appeal.
Despite many supporter’s assertions, this is not a witch-hunt against Celtic. It’s a witch-hunt against witches. Indeed, there are and may continue to be several allegations against other clubs, including Celtic’s bitter rivals, Rangers FC, another club who have used legal sleight of hand to avoid responsibility for past abuse, claiming that Rangers who went into liquidation in 2012, has since been re-established as a ‘separate organisation’.
The victims and the family members of victims like Andrew Gray who sadly died in Australia in 2017 are not, we believe, motivated by money.
Their closure, is dependent on acknowledgment and what’s been referred to as a wider ‘recompense’, accepted and required by the survivors for the undoubted harm suffered.
That is their right under any recognisable terms of morality and compassion.
Perhaps, too late for many, but welcome nevertheless, the concept of socialism in football, as referenced by Bill Shankly, the true concept of socialism, fairness, equitability, collective responsibility, is people dealing with people, people helping people, will finally be realised.
For everyone in the game, in every game, in every society, every country, if and when it happens, it will not before time.