Crewe held board-level talks about an allegation of sexual abuse made against junior coach Barry Bennell in the late 1980s but kept him on, a former director of the club has claimed.
Hamilton Smith, who was on the board of the Sky Bet League Two club from 1986 to early 1990, said he convened a meeting at the home of former chairman Norman Rowlinson after he was confronted with an allegation that Bennell had abused a junior footballer.
Smith claims Rowlinson wanted to get Bennell out of the club before an agreement was reached that Bennell should stay in his post but not be left alone with boys and that boys should not be allowed to go on overnight stays at Bennell’s house.
It is claimed by Smith that Dario Gradi, who was then the club's manager and is now director of football, attended a follow-up meeting held in Gradi's office.
Bennell worked with Crewe, Manchester City, Stoke and several junior clubs in the north-west prior to his conviction for raping a British boy at a football camp in Florida in 1994.
After the conviction in the US, Bennell was found guilty at Chester Crown Court in 1998 of 23 offences against six boys, aged from nine to 15, and was sentenced to nine years in jail.
The court heard that one of the assaults took place in Gradi’s house, though the court was also told there was no suggestion Gradi knew anything about it.
Bennell was given a further sentence in 2015 when he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing another boy at a camp in Macclesfield in 1980.
A number of former footballers — including Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and David White — have all come forward to report they were sexually abused by Bennell during their time in junior football, while ex-Tottenham and Liverpool midfielder Paul Stewart says he was abused as a boy by a different coach.
Smith told the Guardian: “I’m incredibly angry the club continue to refute that they knew anything about suspicions of Bennell’s activities. This was discussed at the club’s top level and, as much as I tried to resolve this, regrettably I couldn’t. I dread to think how many victims there are, and my heart goes out to them.”
There has not yet been any direct response from the club to Smith’s claims.
Gradi released a statement on Thursday in which he expressed sympathy for Bennell’s victims and said he knew nothing of the coach’s crimes until the US conviction in 1994. Club chairman John Bowler — who was vice-chairman at the time Smith claims the talks were held to discuss the allegation against Bennell - said on Tuesday that the club is conducting an inquiry into what went on.
A senior police officer has warned that the sex abuse scandal in football could spread to other sports.
A “significant” number of other alleged victims of abuse are likely to come forward and further sporting governing bodies may report similar problems, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for child protection, said.
Four police forces are now investigating allegations of historical child sex abuse in football.
The national inquiry into child sexual abuse said it was “watching events closely” and opened the door to examining allegations in the growing scandal as England captain Wayne Rooney urged anyone who may have been assaulted to seek help.
Mr Bailey told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think it’s probably a little bit too early to speculate but I suspect that in the next few days and weeks that we will see a significant increase in the numbers that are currently reporting allegations of abuse to us.”
The Norfolk Chief Constable added: “We, as a country, are now having to deal with the legacy of non-recent sexual abuse and the thousands of allegations that we are now seeing across the country.
“We are receiving reports of abuse in all sorts of different institutions. I am not in the least bit surprised that we are now seeing the lid lifted on exploitation within the world of football and I suspect there will be other sporting governing bodies — again in the next few days and weeks — who will come forward and who will identify the fact that they have similar problems.
“I just think that we have more and more victims, thankfully, who are having the confidence to come forward knowing the police service’s response and society’s response to their abuse is now very different.”
The Metropolitan Police, Hampshire Police and Cheshire police have said they are investigating allegations of abuse in the football community.
Northumbria Police said it was investigating an allegation by an unnamed former Newcastle player that he was abused in the club’s youth system.
The Guardian said an unnamed former Newcastle player had contacted police to make allegations against George Ormond, a coach in the north-east who was jailed for six years in 2002 for carrying out numerous assaults across a 24-year period.
Newcastle said they would co-operate with authorities “if or when the club receives further information”.
The Premier League said it is “very concerned” by the allegations.