A free service to protect young footballers and provide them with guidance throughout their careers was launched in Westminster by the Falklands veteran Simon Weston four months after the uncovering of the biggest sexual abuse scandal in the history of the sport.
Weston said the Players Trust, an independent, not-for-profit organisation, would help prevent the wretched headlines and harrowing football stories which dominated the news media before the turn of the year.
Speaking at the House of Commons, Weston, a charity worker who came to prominence after being severely burned in the 1982 Falklands war and is involved with the Players Trust through his friendship with its parental guidance officer, Simon Bywater, who was also in the forces, said: “The need for independent support for our young athletes and their parents has never been greater. The sexual abuse revelations, along with bullying allegations in both football and cycling, have clearly highlighted some of the shortfalls in the way we protect our young talent here in the United Kingdom.
“It is clear that, in too many respects, we have failed in the way we look after and protect our young sportsmen and sportswomen. The Players Trust is the organisation I firmly believe will help these young people and their families.”
Weston said the Trust, the idea for which was initially proposed at a meeting held by the former sports minister Richard Caborn with football’s ruling bodies at Wembley just under a decade ago, was in need of financial support.
Caborn, who was at the meeting hosted by the Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts, said despite an agreement from the representatives involved at that summit, including Trevor Brooking for the Football Association, Howard Wilkinson from the League Managers’ Association and prominent members of the Football and Premier Leagues, that an independent service for young people coming into football was necessary “nothing has happened since”. The Football Association, Premier League and Professional Footballers’ Association were all invited to the Players Trust launch but did not attend.
Caborn said: “I am disappointed there is no representative here from the ‘football family’ and I hope they will reflect and support the Players Trust. All we are talking about is £1m to £2m per year. I think there is a general consensus in football that there should be some independent body. It’s relatively small beer in terms of money.”
Areas of particular concern for Caborn are the lack of help for young footballers and the role of agents, an issue that was raised by a number at Tuesday’s meeting. “Players ought to be asking if the Professional Footballers Association is delivering for them,” stated Caborn. “The disappointing aspect when I met the PFA was the under-16s. There was nothing in place for the under-16s then and there is very little now.
“No one is taking control of agents. Exposing our young people to that system, which is totally unregulated. The sport itself doesn’t regulate agents and that’s disgraceful. There is a real desire from people within football who really want to see this work because they know they have a responsibility and also want to make a contribution. Everybody in that football family has a vested interest so where does that young person go to get independent advice? That’s why I’m pleased that Jock [Waugh, a Players Trust director] and his colleagues have moved this to another level. Its time has come. There is a real concern out there. Is that duty of care truly there in sport? I think the answer to that is no.”
Waugh, a former Football League referee, said the organisation was “self-funding” at present with parents of young footballers they had helped contributing to their costs. “We have a JustGiving page. We would encourage anyone in the football family to donate. Some people have been successful in the game – maybe they would like to donate to support future talent.
“The key is to remain independent. Money should eventually come centrally and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport are guiding us through the funding options available from central government. We need to be a safety valve that sits outside the pressure cooker of the game.”