FA chairman Greg Clarke said that football - and society as a whole - had a "total unawareness" of safeguarding children in the 1990s.
Responding to the child sex abuse scandal involving football coach and convicted paedophile Barry Bennell, Clarke said that the sport and other institutions were "sleepwalking" rather than dealing with the problem.
He said safeguarding rules were only changed in 1995 following the conviction of the national Olympic swimming coach Paul Hickson.
"Society seemed to have a total unawareness of the nature of the problem," he said. "In the 1990s, society was sleepwalking and we were part of that problem."
He said that he was not sure whether there was a cover up over the abuse adding: "I suspect, like many big problems, people aren't drawn towards them.
"Institutionally all organisations in the old days used to protect themselves by keeping quiet and closing ranks. That's completely inappropriate and unacceptable today which is why we've had an independent-led inquiry."
Kate Gallafent QC has been appointed by the FA to assist its review into historical child abuse allegations by former youth footballers.
Clarke said the QC will be impartial and handle the inquiry and draw conclusions and recommendations from it.
He insisted the FA had acted "very quickly" following the allegations, adding: "The main thing to do is not to encumber the investigations of the police by tainting the evidence so we've agreed with the police we won't talk to any of the victims formally."
He added: "I don't want to be accused, appropriately, of turning this into an old boys' inquiry where all the people in football are talking to each other to make sure it is a manageable outcome. [Ms Gallafent] will lead it, it will be her conclusions and we will act upon those conclusions."
More than 20 players have approached the Footballers' Association over sex abuse claims after former players spoke out of abuse at the hands of [**Bennell and other coaches**](http://Gordon Taylor, the Professional Players’ Association chief executive, told ITV News: “Perhaps in the light of what has been revealed in other area sat that time, we shouldn’t be surprised. But we will wait to see how many players do come out.”).
Gordon Taylor, the Professional Players’ Association chief executive, told ITV News: "Perhaps in the light of what has been revealed in other areas at that time, we shouldn’t be surprised. But we will wait to see how many players do come out."