It’s a career to be proud of, but Stewart’s memories are often consumed by the terrible daily brutality he says he faced as a young footballer between the ages of 11 and 15.
This week, Stewart says he will expect Clive Sheldon, the head counsel appointed by the Football Association (FA) in the scandal, to find a solution in an independent review.
Instead, he says that survivors of this sexual abuse have suffered “another kick in the teeth” after the release of a report detailing “significant institutional failures” by English football officials.
Stewart told CNN that the findings have angered and frustrated the victims when they sought closure and retaliation after decades of life affected by traumatic memories of abuse.
“It was commissioned by the FA, it was paid for by the FA and we are going to be disappointed, aren’t we?” Stewart told CNN Sport’s Don Riedel. “They are not going to fully hold their hands and be held accountable for what happened.”
In a review by Sheldon, which was commissioned by the FA in 2016 when several former football players came forward to discuss their experiences of sexual abuse in the game, it was noted that the FA delayed the start of “Appropriate” Had shown “significant institutional failures”. And adequate child protection measures between October 1995 and May 2000 “.
The report also noted that “there is no evidence that the FA was aware that there was a serious or systemic problem of child sexual abuse within the game in England and there is no evidence that the FA was aware That was the problem “before the summer of 1995.
But many of the survivors have been spoken to since the review was published, with Stewart saying they reject the conclusion.
He said, ‘Before 95, there is no blame on any of the clubs, because they said no one spoke. ‘
“Yet these individuals have clearly stated that they had spoken to the coaches, that they had spoken to the staff of the clubs, and refused to validate the report – in fact, ignoring the fact that they It says so. It is a cause of great stress. My colleagues. ”
Stewart says the abuse he suffered as a child – “very, very quickly … for a period of four consecutive years” – has darkened how he views his outstanding accomplishments.
“On paper it seems that I had a very good football career,” he says. “But I did not enjoy it. I did not enjoy even one of it.
“I was very good at putting on an act, like I was this successful footballer, but inside I was an empty soul. I was dying and behind closed doors, I was struggling, really, really struggling . “
The FA’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Bullingham, said in a statement that the review was released as a “black day for the beautiful game” in which we must acknowledge the mistakes of the past and ensure that we do everything possible to prevent them. Is being repeated. “
Bullingham said: “I have had the privilege of meeting some of the survivors, whose courage is inspiring and whose stories are incredibly moving. They will never forget what happened to them, and this report will now ensure that the game will ever take place Even you will not forget. “
“So, today I address the survivors, as are the people who matter the most. To them I say: You have the deepest appreciation of the FA. Your bravery throughout this process has been incredible. Your The voice has been so powerful.
“I want to start by giving a heartfelt apology to the Football Association and all the survivors on behalf of the English game, that this has happened to you within football. No child should ever experience the abuse you have committed.”
“I knew that while playing for some of Britain’s biggest clubs and for their country, I knew that the story would really gain momentum,” says Stewart.
Victims have felt solidarity, Stewart says: “I didn’t expect a tsunami of individuals who came forward. I don’t know why I didn’t expect that. But, you know, I as everyone else Was surprised. When it really went nationwide and global.
“There were a lot of young footballers who did what they did, and they had the same dream, to be a footballer.”
Woodward and Stewart’s accounts, among others, led the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the FA to establish hotlines for footballers who had experienced sexual abuse. According to The Guardian, it received more than 800 calls in its first week.
Before the end of the year, the FA announced an independent review into child sexual harassment in football in 1970–2005.
After four years of waiting – further delayed by heightened charges against Woodward addict Bennell, who was jailed for 31 years at Liverpool Crown Court for 50 counts of child sexual abuse in 2018 – this week of 710 pages The report was released.
“In my judgment,” Sheldon said in the review, “From October 1995 to May 2000, the FA worked very slowly to initiate appropriate and adequate child protection measures and to ensure that those involved in the sport Security was taken seriously. These are critical failures for which there is no excuse. “
The review found that by August 2020 at least 240 suspects and 692 had survived sexual abuse within football.
In Stewart’s time as a young footballer, he says that he felt powerless to stop the abuse as the man who suffered the loss oversees the progress of his career.
Pedophiles in sports, they say, position themselves as “dream makers” with the ability to fulfill a child’s ambition, giving them the ability to end abuse.
“There are many reasons why you don’t say anything,” Stewart says.
“The threat that he would kill my parents and kill my brothers was gifts, but I think the overriding reason you don’t speak is because you really believe that giving and taking into the hands of the coach Power is the only thing you ever want to be, for me, was a footballer.
“When I was a kid, this coach had the power to give in and overcome this dream, so he was able to abuse me for as long as possible, and I think that’s the same in a lot of sports.”
Stewart now works with the English Football League to provide safe advice to young players, coaches and their families.
What he says are the only positives he can take from the Sheldon Report are 13 recommendations to enhance safety in the game that would add “another layer on top of the security that’s already there”.
Nevertheless, he worries for the grassroots of the game.
“You have volunteers who are in charge of security in general,” he says. “Now, these people have jobs and some of our grassroots football clubs have 1,500 children, boys and girls. And they can only have one security officer.
“This people [abusers] Work in these areas, and as long as we have come a long way, we do not need to sit on our spirits, we do not have to be complacent. “
In his own journey, Stewart finds comfort in the work he does to help the youth.
Speaking to CNN, Stewart did not name his abs, but has done so in previous interviews.
His addict died in 2005 in Manchester. While his family was devastated as it prevented a chance of retaliation, he determined to move on.
“I had 42 years where this addict affected my life and I refused to allow it to affect me any more,” says Stewart.
“I am 56 years old now and in the few years I have, I want to think that I can somehow find some solace, and I do the work that I do with the Football League.”
He said: “I wish when I was starting Blackpool I had someone I thought I could go to and talk to, I think I enjoyed my football career Will happen.”
According to a Blackpool statement made by the Blackpool Gazette, the club stated that “it praises the bravery of those who came forward to share their experiences with Mr. Sheldon and his team and that the club has given a special tribute to those Has expressed his sympathy to those who have misused. “
The English Premier League said it was “deeply traumatized” by the review’s content and “our views are influenced by all of them,” while the English Football League said the review “reflects the devastating impact that child abuse has caused within football . ” Continuing on the survivors and on their everyday lives.