great asset” who “contribute an awful lot”. To sum up Dein’s position, the big clubs are our friends, they just overreached a little is all. It was their Operation Barbarossa, perhaps, the top six’s Mexican Wall. Or, as the Glazers and Stan Kroenke would say in their native tongue, “No harm, no foul”.
As Dan Walker wound the programme down, Mark Lawrenson decided to ask him why he was dressed like a member of the Chinese Communist Party. Lawrenson, in his increasingly rare appearances on Football Focus, has adopted the persona of a disaffected teacher on the verge of retirement, yawning carelessly during the headteacher’s pep-talks. Walker’s relief that there are only so many more of these to ride before he leaves the show will have made his drive home most agreeable.
CO L O R S P O RT
A L A M Y
Former Crewe Alexandra chairman John Bowler
Lessons learned CREWE ALEXANDRA
Clive Sheldon QC’s report for the FA on child sexual abuse in the game triggered a rapid and profound transformation among Crewe Alexandra’s supporters and directors, and the departure of chairman John Bowler. Crewe have been at the centre of the game’s abuse scandal since when former players revealed how they had been raped and molested as boys by Barry Bennell. The club’s youth coach between and , he is serving a -year prison sentence for numerous sex offences against junior players at Crewe and other clubs.
The club were criticised by media, politicians and football organisations for their response to the affair – or more accurately, lack of one. Other than a few statements denying specific allegations, officials tried to draw a veil over the matter by maintaining a determined silence.
This strategy proved reputationally disastrous, particularly when in early the directors reneged on a promise to hold an independent inquiry into the affair. The refusal to apologise to survivors, even after financial settlements were made, appeared crass and callous. From the high of being named the Most
Long-time manager Dario Gradi
Admired Football League Club at the Football League Awards in , Crewe’s image went to an all-time low.
Furthermore, journalists and others who raised questions about Dario Gradi, the long-serving manager, and Bowler, who was vice-chairman before becoming chairman in , were lambasted by some supporters on social media. Fans who likewise had concerns were cowed into silence, and some, including myself, found that their affection for the Alex had diminished.
That first group of fans reacted with fierce, unquestioning loyalty in order to resolve the confusion of their two heroes’ conflicted legacy. Gradi, who left the club in , and Bowler were responsible for managing a man who repeatedly raped boys in Crewe’s care. Yet the pair had also transformed the club from a joke Fourth Division outfit in the mid- s to one that spent eight seasons in the Championship over the turn of the century. They rebuilt the stadium, established a renowned academy and produced several international players. They also gave fans a previously scarce commodity – pride.
Over an extraordinary few days, however, publication of the Sheldon Report in March laid the ground for resolving this painful dichotomy and salvaging the club’s image. The report found the club had failed to safeguard boys. Neither Bowler nor Gradi ever checked on the welfare of those staying at Bennell’s house. Rumours about Bennell’s paedophilia were ignored. Sheldon said Gradi’s behaviour – he also had juniors staying with him regularly, although without any suggestion of improper behaviour – “normalised” Bennell’s practice of hosting boys.
Crewe’s initial response to these findings was unchanged. A statement
SCENES FROM FOOTBALL HISTORY
D AV E RO B I N S O N
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