Ex-Chelsea player claims club 'paid for silence on abuse'

AFP

London (AFP) - A former Chelsea player has claimed he was paid £50,000 ($63,000) by the Premier League club not to go public about allegations that he was sexually abused by its former chief scout as top-flight Southampton said they had been in contact with police over allegations.

Gary Johnson, 57, told The Mirror on Friday that he had been abused as a youth player by Eddie Heath, who is now dead.

The latest allegations come as around 350 people have told British police they were victims of abuse by football coaches, deepening a scandal that has rocked the sport.

It was reported earlier this week that Chelsea had made a payment to an individual in the last three years following allegations regarding Heath.

Speaking to the Mirror, which reported that Chelsea had now waived the confidentiality clause in Johnson's settlement, he said: "I think that they were paying me to keep a lid on this.

"Millions of fans around the world watch Chelsea. They are one of the biggest and richest clubs in the world.

"All their fans deserve to know the truth about what went on. I know they asked me to sign a gagging order and how many others are there out there?

"They may have paid others for their silence. I hope and pray no clubs are allowed to cover this up -- no one should escape justice. We need total transparency now for the good of the game."

London club Chelsea said they had retained an external lawyer to assist them with their inquiries into Heath's activities in the 1970s, adding: "The club has also contacted the FA to ensure that all possible assistance is provided as part of their wider investigation."

- 'Shame' -

Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn has said any club guilty of "hushing up" sexual abuse to protect their image would be punished.

Johnson was a member of Chelsea's first team from 1978 to 1981, but joined the club as an 11-year-old in 1970 and said he had been groomed from the age of 13 by Heath.

"He said he was in love with me, he was hooked," said the former player, who is now a London cab driver.

"I felt shame, I felt my childhood had been taken away," Johnson told the Mirror. "I spent my late teens in turmoil, absolute turmoil."

Heath, who was the club's chief scout from 1968 to 1979, died before the allegations were made.

Meanwhile a Southampton statement said: "Southampton Football Club would like to confirm that we have contacted Hampshire Police following information supplied to us in relation to historical child abuse within football."

Two former Saints players were interviewed by BBC South on Thursday about sexual abuse they endured from an unnamed coach.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) said it was investigating reports from 35 people, with its inquiry growing on a "daily basis".

Friday saw the FA, English football's governing body, issue a safeguarding video featuring England captain Wayne Rooney explaining how parents and children could raise concerns about adults working in the game.

It also highlighted the work of 8,500 safeguarding officers working across England football.

The FA said anyone who had a concern about the welfare of a child or the behaviour of an adult towards a child or young person under 18 years of age in football, was required to refer it to The FA Safeguarding team.

On Thursday it was revealed a dedicated helpline set up by British charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) had received 860 calls in its first week.

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