Childrens’ charities have accused Scottish football clubs of failing to protect young players from sexual abuse, following research from The Ferret which shows nearly two-thirds of Premiership and Championship teams have no dedicated safeguarding officer.
Just 36 per cent of the clubs in Scotland’s top two divisions confirmed they have appointed a salaried safeguarding officer with no other roles at the club. At most clubs, safeguarding is the responsibility of volunteers or staff with other roles like club coach, secretary, personal assistant or member of the board.
Campaigners called these revelations “astonishing” and “absolutely unacceptable” and said that there should be “no hiding place” for clubs who do not prioritise childrens’ safety.
MSPs said clubs need to do more and a Scottish parliamentary committee said the revelations “raised important questions on which the committee will reflect”.
In 2016, allegations of sexual abuse against Crewe Alexandra coach Barry Bennell led to widespread revelations of historic abuse in British football. In Scotland, the clubs implicated have included Celtic Boys Club, Rangers, Hibernian and Partick Thistle as well as amateur clubs.
The Scottish Football Association (SFA) responded by announcing an inquiry. In 2018, they published an interim report which said that most clubs still allocate safeguarding responsibilities as an ‘add on’ to other posts at the club and that this was “inadequate to meet the expanding responsibilities of the role”.
The report said that senior professional clubs should employ a dedicated, salaried safeguarding officer and that, in clubs with youth academies or active community programmes and outreach work, these officers should be employed full-time.
Despite this recommendation, nearly two-thirds of clubs have no dedicated safeguarding officer. This includes four clubs in the Scottish Premiership: Hamilton Academical, Livingston, St Johnstone and St Mirren.
Matt Forde is the Scottish head of service National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). He said it was a “travesty” that the SFA’s recommendations are “not being taken onboard”.
“It is astonishing that after so many revelations of decades of abuse in Scottish football, some clubs are still not doing everything they can to ensure these atrocities do not happen again,” he said.
He added: “There must be no hiding place for clubs that do not make children’s safety a priority, and it is vital that governing bodies proactively enforce this and penalise those that fail.”
Rape Crisis Scotland chief executive Sandy Brindley said: “Clear recommendations have been made to ensure that the kinds of abuses seen before at football clubs cannot happen again, it is absolutely unacceptable that some clubs are not stepping up to the responsibility they have to make that a certainty.”
Brindley also stressed the importance of “rigorous and robust process” and having someone designated who is trained and capable of responding appropriately, including signposting to specialist support.
MSPs on Holyrood’s cross-party group on adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse also said football clubs need to do more. Its deputy convener, SNP MSP Fulton MacGregor, said: “Football clubs have a duty of care to youngsters. While it’s pleasing that some of our top flight clubs are reaching those standards, more needs to be done to ensure young players are protected.”
He added: “The SFA need to lead from the front on this issue and ensure that our top clubs are doing everything they can to prevent abuse in the game. It’s time to introduce tougher sanctions for clubs who don’t comply with the guidelines.”
Scottish Labour’s Monica Lennon MSP said: “Safeguarding responsibilities must be taken seriously by football clubs and should be demonstrated through proper resourcing. There is clearly more work to be done and that is a cause for concern.”
Holyrood’s petitions committee is currently considering whether football clubs are exploiting young players by failing to pay the minimum wage. The committee’s convener, Labour MSP Johann Lamont, said The Ferret’s revelations “raised important questions”.
Lamont said the committee has been told by the SFA that clubs have improved their child protection policies. “But,” she added, “policy on paper must match reality. And child protection and safeguarding must be an area clubs give sufficient resource to. This research raises some important questions on which the committee will reflect.”
Of the clubs without a dedicated safeguarding officer, four are in the Scottish Premiership. Hamilton Academicals’ safeguarding officer is academy coach Matt Boyle and Livingston’s is youth coach Jimmy Dunn.
At St Johnstone, a child safety policy document on their website says their officer is Dave Graham. He passed The Ferret’s inquiries on to the club’s head of football operations Kirsten Robertson who refused to say whether the safeguarding officer is a dedicated role, claiming this was “personal information”.
St Mirren also refused to answer The Ferret’s questions. Their website lists their safeguarding officer as Barry Nicholson. His LinkedIn page says he is a former football coach and mentor and, since taking up his safeguarding role at St Mirren in 2015, also works in a Glasgow evangelical church as a charity shop manager and pastor.
At Dundee FC, the safeguarding officer is Pam Rodgers. Club secretary Eric Drysdale said that safeguarding is her “primary role” but she is also a personal assistant to the managing director and the management team.
Dundee United said their academy safeguarding officer is academy coach Michael McPake. Their Community Trust safeguarding officer is Paul Wilson, who works full-time at the community trust but not only on safeguarding. For their senior team, safeguarding is handled by Andy MacGregor who is paid for this role on a part-time, ad-hoc basis.
At Dunfermline, safeguarding is the responsibility of a mechanical engineer called Drew Main who is on the club’s board of directors. He told The Ferret that his safeguarding role is not salaried and is on a part-time, ad-hoc basis.
Alloa Athletic, Greenock Morton and Arbroath did not respond to The Ferret’s inquiries. But at all three, their listed safeguarding officers have the same name as their club secretaries.
Queen of the South’s safeguarding officer has the same name as the club’s safety officer and, at Ayr United, the child welfare officer is physio Steve Maguire.
At Glasgow’s Partick Thistle, Beth Adamson is in charge of safeguarding. She is also a supporter engagement officer and a midfielder in the club’s women’s team.
An Inverness Caledonian Thistle spokesperson said they had not been able to find out the answers to The Ferret’s questions. Unlike most other clubs, the contact number given on the club’s website for safeguarding officer Willie MacLennan goes to the club’s reception rather than MacLennan’s own phone number. On several different days, The Ferret was told MacLennan was not in the office.
Only eight clubs confirmed to The Ferret that they have dedicated safeguarding officers. These are Aberdeen, Celtic, Hearts, Hibernian, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Rangers and Ross County.
Of these, only Aberdeen, Celtic and Hibernian said their safeguarding officer works full-time. Ross County’s Alan Heath and Motherwell’s Brian Reynolds work part-time. Hearts’ Desmond Coyne said he works three days a week at the club. Kilmarnock declined to say how many days a week Charlie Adams works and Rangers’ Arlene Sinclair would also not say how many days a week she works.
In October 2016, the SFA said that all its member clubs must appoint and train a child wellbeing and protection officer. The required training is two three-hour courses delivered by the SFA. Every year, clubs have to prove their safeguarding officers have been on these courses or equivalent ones in order to renew their licenses.
Following the sexual abuse scandal revelations, the Scottish FA has formed a six-person child wellbeing and protection department which is overseen by an advisory board led by the Children in Scotland chief executive Jackie Brock.
Speaking to the Scottish parliament in January, the SFA’s Ian Maxwell accepted that Scottish football’s “journey of improvement” on child safeguarding is not complete but said there had been “tangible progress” and that the issue was a priority.
A SFA spokesperson said: “All member clubs are required to have a named Child Wellbeing and Protection Officer as part of club licensing and from season 2019/20 this role is included on the Official Return. Through the Wellbeing and Protection Department, we are committed to implementing the recommendations contained within the Review of Sexual Abuse in Scottish Football Interim Report and await the publication of the final report.”
The SFA said the author of the 2018 interim report Martin Henry was not able to comment until the full report was released.