Chelsea racism scandal: former players go public with abuse claims

New evidence of ‘whites against blacks’ training matches in club’s 1980s youth setup

An aerial view of Stamford Bridge, circa 1988. Photograph: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty

An aerial view of Stamford Bridge, circa 1988. Photograph: Ben Radford/Allsport/Getty

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Chelsea are facing more allegations about a racism scandal involving Gwyn Williams and Graham Rix after the former youth-team footballers who claim they were subjected to horrific abuse received public backing from two of the white players who were on the club’s books.

Grant Lunn and Gary Baker, who both played in Chelsea’s youth setup in the early 1980s, said they had decided to come forward to speak about Williams after reading the statement the club’s former youth-team coach released to the Guardian in March to “deny all and any allegations of racial or other abuse”.

Amid new evidence of “whites-against-blacks” training matches and with Lunn remembering racism as “the norm”, the Guardian can also reveal that Chelsea are facing the possibility of more widespread legal action about the culture of “continued racist bullying and abuse” that allegedly existed behind the scenes when Williams, a key figure at Stamford Bridge for 25 years, was prominently involved in the youth system.

Four players have submitted legal claims and a number of others have contacted solicitors, with at least three more cases pending. All the claims relate to Williams but Graham Rix, a former England international, is also implicated in relation to his coaching period with Chelsea’s youngsters in the 1990s. As the Guardian reported in January, one allegation is that Rix threw a cup of hot coffee in the face of one young black player, who claims his confidence was shattered by the racial abuse he encountered from his coaches. Rix and Williams, who use the same lawyer, have repeatedly denied all the allegations.

At the weekend Lunn and Baker met four of the players – among them, two of their former team-mates – who claim they were racially abused by Williams, including one who says he was so traumatised by his experiences as a teenager at Chelsea, from 1979-85, he cannot even watch them play on television because of the flashbacks he suffers.

Lunn, a former goalkeeper, spent four years at Chelsea before being released at the age of 18 and moving into non-league football, including spells at Woking and Aldershot. “As a group of kids, we probably became used to hearing racist terms and insults when we were at the club,” he said. “One week there would be only one or two, another day it may happen 10 times. It was the norm.

“I can remember how it affected some of the lads. One of my team-mates was repeatedly called racist names by Williams and when we were alone together he would confide in me and say how he hated the way he was being treated, the names he was called and the way he was singled out time and again because of his colour.

“Those boys had no support or no way of challenging it. There was nobody else to go to. They had to deal with it and accept it. There was no way anybody else would challenge it on their behalf as their card would have been marked. It was just the way it was. It wasn’t right, and that is clear now. We probably didn’t realise back then how wrong it was.

“It’s why I have come forward to support these players now. It has taken them so long to speak out because of the impact it has had on their lives. Some of these lads were excellent players who I think could have made it. They didn’t get support back then, but it is only right they have it now.”

Baker, who was on Chelsea’s books from 1981-86, said: “When I read the articles in March I was surprised how it all came flooding back and how it made me feel. It was the outright denial from Williams that made me want to come forward. I have no axe to grind with him personally, as I was never targeted in any way by him, but I was annoyed and angered to read his denial.

“I thought: ‘How on earth can he say that?’ as I know he racially abused players, one in particular in my time, regularly. I don’t think that back then, as a kid, I ever thought about it being wrong, and I wasn’t one to speak out anyway. Nobody spoke out. It wasn’t like today where there are at least four or five members of the coaching team. Williams was in charge of the entire youth setup and if you were going to make it in football it was on his say-so.”

Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli (L) with his assistant Graham Rix during a Premiership game in December 1999. Photograph: Michael Steele/Allsport
Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli (L) with his assistant Graham Rix during a Premiership game in December 1999. Photograph: Michael Steele/Allsport

The legal papers served to Chelsea allege one player was so traumatised he abandoned his career at the age of 19, despite signing as a professional, and has deliberately avoided going anywhere near Stamford Bridge in more than 30 years since he was at the club.

That follows the previous Guardian story in January about three former youth-team footballers from the 90s issuing legal claims against Chelsea because of what one, now in his late 30s, described as a “feral environment” for some of the black players in the youth team, alleging they were treated “like a race of fucking dogs”.

That player’s allegations include that Rix or Williams called him a “darkie”, a “nignog”, a “black bastard”, a “wog”, “midnight”, “jigaboo” and various other insults. The player also alleges he was told by Williams to “fuck off back to Africa” and “sell drugs or rob old grannies”. Williams, it is alleged, would punish the player by telling him to “go and clean my office, Richard Pryor – shine my shoes like a good wog” or “pick up your lip, it’s dragging on the floor”.

In one incident, Chelsea played a youth-team fixture in Spain and Rix is said to have humiliated one of the black outfield players by substituting him with the reserve goalkeeper. As the player was showering afterwards, it is alleged Rix shouted: “If his heart was as big as his cock, he would be a great player that ran more.” According to the evidence presented to Chelsea, Rix followed it up by saying the player should have been “the only person in the whole stadium to be able to enjoy the 40-degree heat” on the basis that “blacks were always winning the long-distance Olympic events in the heat, if they weren’t chucking spears”.

The allegations were so serious Chelsea felt compelled to notify the Football Association and the police were brought in. The police decided after a seven-month investigation there was insufficient evidence to take any action but Chelsea have launched their own investigation and the FA’s safeguarding team has interviewed at least two of the players. Chelsea have also offered counselling to the players. Rix and Williams have declined a number of interview requests from this newspaper.

The club have responded to the latest developments by saying: “We take allegations of this nature extremely seriously and they will be fully investigated. We are absolutely determined to do the right thing, to assist the authorities and any investigations they may carry out, and to fully support those affected, which would include counselling for any former player that may need it.”

The players who allege they were racially abused have asked to remain anonymous. “I came forward because I couldn’t stand back and see the people responsible denying it had happened,” one said. “Young players, including myself, were racially abused each and every day. I think many of us at the time just thought we had to accept it to make a career. It was as if you had to show you could handle it before you could be considered for progression to the first team.”

Another player added: “I can remember that one of our lads was of mixed race, and the coach would be taking training and would organise a game by saying it was ‘whites against blacks’. He’d then look at this lad in front of everybody and say: ‘Oh, which side are we going to put you on?’ It was all about isolation and humiliation.”

Renu Daly, the solicitor representing four of the players, said the Chelsea case had also led to her firm, Hudgell Solicitors, being contacted about similar issues at other clubs. “These men feared they had nobody to turn to when they were young children hoping for a football career,” she said. “They have each come forward individually now, having never spoken to one another about it over the years. Collectively now, they have found the voice to speak about what happened. We are very grateful that people who were part of these youth teams, and not subjected to abuse, have also come forward to speak in support of their former colleagues. Their only motivation for doing so is the fact they simply feel it is the right thing to do.”

Williams joined Chelsea in 1979 and went on to have a spell as assistant manager to Claudio Ranieri, as well as being involved in the scouting department for José Mourinho, before leaving the club in 2006. He is credited with discovering John Terry but has been accused in the past of making homophobic comments to Graeme Le Saux, a former Chelsea defender. Williams later joined Ken Bates, formerly Chelsea’s chairman, at Leeds United but was dismissed for gross misconduct in 2013 after emailing pornographic images of women to a number of colleagues, including a female receptionist.

Rix, who won 17 England caps and played in the 1982 World Cup, also has a chequered past, having admitted in March 1999 two charges of unlawful sex with a 15-year-old girl and indecent assault and being sentenced to 12 months in prison – serving six of them – as well as being put on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years. He was reinstated by Chelsea immediately after his release from Wandsworth prison and was the first-team coach when Gianluca Vialli’s team won the FA Cup in 2000. Rix had previously been the assistant manager to Ruud Gullit and had a brief spell as the caretaker manager after Vialli’s departure.

(Guardian service)

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