Football abuse inquiry delayed by volume of work as investigators receive counselling after hearing survivors' stories

The small legal team carrying out a £1 million FA-funded inquiry into historical sex abuse in football are receiving counselling after listening to survivors’ harrowing personal stories.

They have already met 15 former players and plan to boost that number to 50 by the end of their investigation - a figure which they believe constitutes “not a bad sample size”.

At the last count the police were investigating around 250 cases.

The latest figures, due to be updated any day now, showed 741 alleged victims had come forward in the previous eight months and 276 separate suspects had been identified.

The inquiry is now likely to take longer than originally predicted due to the amount of potential evidence the team is wading through, while the FA has opened up its archives where almost 2,300 boxes of documents remain unopened.

Investigators were hoping to report back to the FA by the end of the year, but now estimate Easter 2018 is a more likely end date.

So far 741 alleged victims have come forward. Credit: PA

The work is further complicated by ongoing criminal proceedings; the team has been asked not to speak to some former footballers who may end up as witnesses in Crown Court trials.

They are also hampered by the fact that some individuals are seeking damages from clubs and have been advised that if they do speak to the inquiry team it could damage their case.

Sources close to the inquiry say a pattern is emerging that the vast majority of youngsters allegedly ​abused did not tell anyone about what had happened to them - not even their parents.

While there are a few exceptions, it appears at this stage that there is no evidence pointing to a mass abuse cover-up as such.

However, even if the clubs were not told directly about potential abuse, investigators are still keen to establish whether there were enough rumours circulating at the time that should have triggered some action over various coaches.

And while the bulk of claimed abuse took place at the grassroots level of the game, the greatest influence lay with professional coaches who could effectively make or break careers. One member of the inquiry team even likened that level of power to the Harvey Weinstein scandal playing out in Hollywood at the moment.

The inquiry will not end before Easter next year. Credit: PA

While the remit of the inquiry has not been expanded during the first stage of the investigation, those leading it are liaising with their counterparts in Scotland who are running a similar fact-finding operation.

And for survivors who want to contribute to the investigation but only anonymously, a questionnaire is available allowing them to do just that -although so far only one person has taken advantage of this.

The majority of survivors are men, but women victims do account for 4% of the total recorded. So far, none have been contacted and none have come forward to take part in the FA’s inquiry.

Investigators say to date all clubs who have been contacted have cooperated fully.

The FA’s 46 County Associations have been contacted too, but four are yet to respond. Their first deadline passed four months ago, although senior figures do not believe those who have not replied are being obstructive.

When this inquiry began much soul-searching and public pain was anticipated, but what ​allegedly ​happened - unchecked - to so many young footballers for so long seems to get more shocking with every new depressing story of abuse.