Former Sunderland footballer Paul Stewart opens up about abuse in bid to protect next generation

A former Sunderland footballer has opened up about the abuse he faced as a junior player in a bid to protect the next generation.

Paul Stewart played for many major teams in his career, scoring in an FA Cup final and winning caps for England.

He has opened up about being groomed during his time as a youth player in the North West and after years of silence he and other former players have spoken out.

Paul has launched a new free course to parents and coaches at grassroots level, to spot the signs of abuse and make sure history doesn't repeat itself. 

It comes as figures show that 1 in 3 parents across the North East region have never asked their club about safeguarding and 1 in 4 have never spoken to their children about the signs of abuse.

Paul said: “I think considering the sort of impact it’s had on my life, the devastating effects, long after the abuse, perpetuated right into adult life and the effect it had on my family. 

“I just wanted to make sure that I could do everything in my power to try and minimise the risk for our future generations. I didn’t want people to just feel sorry for me and pity me, I wanted to be able to make an impact on safeguarding moving forward, so that this never repeats itself."

300 coaches have currently taken the course nationwide and organisers aim to reach more including everyone at clubs and parents.

Paul said the success of the Lionesses in the recent Euro tournament may lead to more you youngsters taking up the sport and so child safeguarding is more important than ever.

Paul Stewart played for Sunderland FC between 1996-1997. Credit: PA

He said: "Now the great achievements of the Lionesses means that we’re going to have more young girls that want to emulate these ladies like Beth Mead and all the Lionesses that did so fabulously well. 

“We need to make sure that history doesn't repeat itself, that we make sure that they pursue their dreams in a safe environment, which is why I got involved with this online course with high speed training. 

“It was mightily important because statistics show that a third of parents still drop their kids off at sports clubs and organisations without questioning whether they have safeguarding policies or what the procedures are.

“I think football has come in giant strides, they have the infrastructure, they have the financial resources to be able to do it,  so this course is really for the grass roots and for every sport whereby they don't have the same infrastructure as football.

“I think it’s important that we recognise that they need the help or as much help as they can.

“It’s an hour’s course, it isn’t a lot out of a parent’s or a coach’s life to take it. 

“We’re dropping our most prized possessions off at these organisations. We should be thinking, how safe are these organisations we’re leaving them at?

“Speak to somebody because we don't want it to escalate into what happened to me, and a lot of other my colleagues whereby it took years and years for us to speak out. 

“42 years I was silent on what happened to me, we can stop this at the early stages, whatever it is, and deal with it.”

If you want to find out more about the Safeguarding in Sport course visit Paul Stewart's website here.