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Chelsea abuse High Court case a fight for ‘justice and equality’ say ex-players
- Updated: July 2, 2020
WARNING: This article contains offensive language.
Two former Chelsea youth-team players have told the BBC they are “still fighting for justice and equality” after alleging they were racially abused at the club in the 1990s.
They are among four players who are taking the club to the High Court to seek damages, claiming their careers and lives were ruined.
Chelsea apologised last year after a Barnardo’s review said the abuse was “instigated” by former coach and academy director Gwyn Williams.
Williams, who left the club in 2006, denies “any and all allegations” and says he “did not act in a racist way towards any youth or other player” at Chelsea.
In an interview with BBC Sport, where the two players detail the abuse they say they suffered and how it has affected them, one player said Chelsea’s approach to their case had been “absolutely disgusting”.
The players also accused the club of “hypocrisy” at a time when Chelsea were supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
And they say how they have been hurt by taunts on social media that their case has been motivated by money.
One player, who said he was called derogatory racial names, suffered racial stereotypes and was bullied by Williams into showing others his penis, claimed the abuse had led to “relationship issues, depression and ruined my whole life”.
He added: “It’s absolutely disgusting. Chelsea have had a chance to rectify things and I feel they haven’t done that at all. We haven’t had a [personal] apology.
“So nothing has changed from 25 or 30 years ago, when we were there. We are still hearing the same things; we are still fighting for justice and equality.”
‘I want actions, not words’
Chelsea, who commissioned and published the independent Barnardo’s review in August 2019, said they had apologised to the players, offered support and said the club was a “very different place now than it was then”. Owner Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.
The club also said the case – set for court in early 2022 – is being handled by their insurers, which are appointed on a league-wide basis. Although Chelsea have not admitted liability, they added: “It remains the club’s desire that the cases are resolved as soon as possible”.
The cases are understood to be more complex than those settled by Chelsea involving sexual abuse victims of former chief scout Eddie Heath.
But one of the players taking the club to the High Court said the difference in approach to the two cases highlighted what they were up against.
He also alleged that publishing the two reports – into sexist abuse and racism at the club – on the same day last year was an attempt to “hide” racism.
The second player, who alleged Williams used to “flick you in your balls”, added: “After the Barnardo’s report, you thought Chelsea would put their hands up and deal with it, like you are dealing with Black Lives Matter now.
“It is hypocrisy. They made a statement to offer support and services, to engage with those who have been affected, but who have they engaged with? Which survivors? What have they done?
“I want actions, not words, it’s as simple as that.”
A Chelsea spokesman said the club were “completely committed to providing support to survivors of abuse and ensuring that all our former players are offered holistic support”.
He added: “We are an anti-racist organisation. Together we are fully committed to driving out racism now and in the future.”
Chelsea added that publishing reports on sexual abuse and racism on the same day was to ensure equal weight was given to both.
Abuse was ‘daily, anywhere, anytime, in front of anybody’
The players say they have spoken up not only to highlight what they feel is the injustice of the case, but also to show how football views racism.
Although there are four players currently listed as having a High Court case against Chelsea in 2022, there are more than 10 former players who say they suffered similar abuse and are preparing their own cases.
One of the players BBC Sport spoke to said that seeing interviews with sexual abuse survivors such as former Liverpool forward Paul Stewart “gave me the strength to come forward”.
But he explained that Williams, who joined Chelsea in 1979 as youth development officer and went on to work as assistant manager to former boss Claudio Ranieri, “had more power than the first-team manager” and their complaints at the time were met with “shrugged shoulders”.
Both accept that Chelsea have improved as a club.
However, they question the club’s claims that the abuse was confined a different era given that the Welshman was employed for another three years, after Abramovich took over in 2003, before joining Leeds.
They describe the abuse as “traumatic” and that the “intimidating atmosphere” left them “wishing there were train strikes so we didn’t have to go in”.
One player said: “Coming in every day and being called ‘spear-chucker or mango-muncher’. The stereotypes were there as well. ‘How many handbags did you nick this weekend? How many old ladies have you robbed?’
“It was on a daily basis, anywhere, anytime, in front of anybody. It could happen at Stamford Bridge, the training ground, on the minibus, basically wherever Williams would see you, that’s how he would talk to you.
“And he had a smirk and a smile on his face, like it was a bit of a joke or whatever. The problem was he had been doing this for years and years.”
Williams would also taunt black players about the size of their penises, one of the player alleges.
“It got to a point where I couldn’t even go in the shower until everyone else had gone. It was disgusting and it would go on and on and on.
“When you go back to your area in a Chelsea tracksuit, everyone is proud of you, and all you’re doing is putting on a brave face and saying it’s going great, but really, it’s far from it.”
The other player added: “When Gwyn walked past, you had to put your hands in front of your privates, because he would flick your balls. He would do that to everybody, even professionals.
“Coming to Chelsea, I was a confident young man but [the abuse] shot my confidence. It made me view white people differently and it drained all my dreams to the point where I wanted nothing to do with football. When my son started playing football, I didn’t want him to play.
“It was a traumatic experience. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over it. It’s affected my relationships, the way I deal with people, a whole host of things.”
The players reject any suggestion that the case is motivated by money. In 2018, former chairman Ken Bates, said that there was “a sniff of money in the air”.
One player said: “Money is not even a factor. This is about right and wrong.
“If you had been racially abused, that’s bad enough as it is, but then imagine on top of that, now somebody is turning around and saying you’re lying, you’re just in it for the money. We’re human beings as well; we have feelings and emotions too.”
The other player added: “This case is important to make sure no child, no football player, male or female, feels they are on their own and they know they can speak up about racial abuse in any team.”