Crewe chairman John Bowler stands down in wake of Sheldon Review into sexual abuse scandal

·3 min read
John Bowler became Crewe Alexandra’s chairman in 1987 (Getty Images)
John Bowler became Crewe Alexandra’s chairman in 1987 (Getty Images)

Crewe Alexandra chairman John Bowler has resigned in the wake of the Sheldon Review, which criticised the club’s handling of the sexual abuse scandal.

Barry Bennell, the club’s youth coach and scout for two spells between 1985 and 1992, repeatedly abused young players. In 2018, after multiple survivors came forward with their accounts, Bennell was convicted of 50 counts of child abuse against 12 boys aged eight to 15 and was sentenced to 31 years in prison. He was sentenced to a further four years last year.

The recent report by Clive Sheldon QC said the club should have done more to safeguard children, given the hierarchy had been warned by a senior police officer to keep a “watching brief” on Bennell. Since the report was published there have been calls for Bowler, who joined the board in 1980 and became chairman in 1987, to resign.

“I always intended to [stand down] following the conclusion of the Sheldon Review,” Bowler said. “As the only person left with an association to that era, I truly believe it was important for me to see it through to conclusion.

“I am satisfied with the findings of the reviews that found the club did not have any knowledge of Barry Bennell’s heinous crimes. I will always be deeply appalled and sorry that those young players and their families suffered and the hands of this evil predator. I personally and sincerely apologise to them all for their suffering.”

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Crewe’s initial reaction to the report, which went to great lengths to emphasise that those at the club had no knowledge of Bennell’s crimes, was criticised for failing to take enough responsibility.

“The club is truly sorry if there were in fact any warning signs that ought to have led the club to do more,” Crewe’s statement read last week. “The club wholeheartedly regrets and is sorry to every survivor of abuse that it was unaware of Bennell’s offending.”

The Offside Trust, a charity set up by survivors of sexual abuse in sport, described Crewe’s statement as “cold” and “mealy-mouthed”.

Bowler added: “Crewe Alexandra is a community based club with good people. I apologise to all our supporters that the name of the club has been tarnished.

“I have worked on the formation of a new board and know they will do all they can to move the club forward. Our academy remains one of the finest in the country and we have every confidence in our safeguarding policies and procedures.

“There is always room for improvement and as a club will welcome the future recommendations of The Sheldon Review.”

The report made 13 key recommendations to the Football Association to ensure future safeguarding of children in football, including a board member at every club becoming a safeguarding champion, an annual review of spot-checks that grassroots clubs can carry out, and the employment of safeguarding officers at all professional clubs.

The FA issued a “heartfelt apology” to all survivors of sexual abuse.