EXCLUSIVE: Scotland’s football abuse scandal is expected to explode with more details coming out that some coaches perhaps acted together in an organised paedophile ring, being either protected or moved on from club to club after raping and molesting boys with big dreams of being professional footballers, writes Gary Johnston.
There is nothing uglier, than inchoate hatred. Hard though it may be to believe, even old, moon-faced Barnaby Joyce is more attractive.
Hatred, based on prejudice, soaked in bigotry, marinated in racism, brought to a rolling boil in a foul fusion of animosity and sectarianism, is a repugnant commodity no measure of tolerance and rationale can ever excuse.
In our world of relentless social media activity, hatred, served up with lashings of ignorance and narrow-mindedness, perpetrated by faceless, single-digit, keyboard lame-brains, is the new fascism, which is rather disappointing, since we haven’t altogether lanced the boil of old fascism yet.
Anonymous people, seemingly bereft of compassion, empathy and good humour, who get their kicks sticking the boot into those whose only crime is to have experienced agony, hardship and ill fortune.
What’s so funny, as the great Nick Lowe once said, about peace, love and understanding?
Earlier this year, True Crime News Weekly broke the story, in Australia at least, of the sexual abuse scandal which has rocked the world of Scottish professional football. Our reporting has since made a significant impact in Scotland, with families of victims as well as media outlets and blogs picking up on or sharing our articles. Indeed, outside of Australia, Scotland has this year been the nation where this website has received most of its readership from.
The Celtic Boys Club, an unofficial feeder of the celebrated team, first British side to lift the prestigious European Cup, forerunner of the Champions League, was revealed to be a dysfunctional, corrupt organisation whose coaches systematically and with apparent impunity molested a tranche of young men over the course of a number of years with, all of the evidence suggests, the tacit, or at least tolerated, acquiescence of high profile, legendary figures within the mighty Celtic FC itself.
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A significant figure in exposing the extent of abuse, was the tireless Michelle Gray whose brother Andrew, after a troubled time dealing with the consequences of his horrific experience, tragically lost his life in a dreadful accident in Perth, Western Australia.
Despite his awful demise, Andrew’s testimony, accumulated and engendered by Michelle and her mother Helene, was delivered at the subsequent criminal trial of the most prolific perpetrator – one James Torbett – and had a powerful effect on the subsequent conviction of Torbett, who is currently – and rightly – serving a sentence of 6 years imprisonment at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
Following that judgement in November 2018, one of Torbett’s contemporaries, Frank Cairney, another youth coach linked to Celtic was also earlier this year sentenced to four years in prison for abusing young boys connected to the club. All up, at least four Celtic youth coaches have been identified as having been involved in the sexual abuse of young footballers under their guidance and care.
Cue an incredible – for people unaware of the tribal associations of Scottish culture – backlash against the Gray family, accused of ‘disloyalty’ towards Celtic, exemplified by social media trolling alluding to shady personal vendettas aided and abetted – orchestrated according to the blindsided faithful – by supporters of Celtic’s traditional rivals, Rangers FC.
To a lesser extent, far lesser compared to the Gray’s experience, True Crime News Weekly was even drawn into the argument, with a number of Celtic fans accusing us of prejudice and even worse for this writer, a life-long Celtic supporter, of being a “half-baked bluenose”.
For those of you not in the know, a ‘bluenose’, is a semi-pejorative term for a staunch, some would say immutable, Rangers supporter.
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Amongst other suggestions made to us by Celtic acolytes, was a request that we investigate the behaviour of one time Rangers coach Gordon Neely, also accused of being a long time sexual abuser of young aspirant footballers. What’s more, it was said, we should report on the significant evidence that suggested Neely’s conduct was well known and apparently given the seal of approval by principal figures at Rangers FC, including, amongst others, Walter Smith, a successful – though, not all that successful – manager of the club in the 1990’s.
In addition to working at Rangers, Neely also coached at two other Scottish clubs, Hibernian and Dundee United, where his disgraceful conduct – biting young players, subjecting them to private ‘spanking sessions’ and, it’s alleged, much, much worse – was not only tolerated, but, it seems, actively encouraged, in the name of “character building”.
Rangers youth coach Gordon Neely (Image: BBC)
Even more worrying, if that’s possible, are well-founded rumours that Neely was a close acquaintance of the notorious Barry Bennell, a scout and coach at both Crewe Alexandra FC and premiership giants Manchester City and a convicted child rapist whose victims, said to number in the hundreds, were all teenage – and younger – would-be footballers, meticulously selected and groomed by Bennell over the course of a number of years.
The strong possibility that there might have been a cohort of top level football coaches operating a sexual abuser’s ring, trading in information and – quite possibly in children – and that it may well have been covered up by some of the biggest names in the round ball game is, you might think, a major story that any right-minded football supporter – any person with a concept of justice – would automatically acknowledge as being serious as deserving of further investigation. We agree, wholeheartedly.
The Torbett affair at Celtic Boy’s Club however, suggests that is not universally, the accepted conclusion. Instead, for some ‘fans’, it seems affiliations, connections with football clubs, are seen as being much more important than the basic premise of fairness, equitability and due process.
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Bennell and Torbett – and others like Cairney – are in jail. Neely isn’t, having assumed room temperature in 2014, but for any reasonable person, that surely cannot be the end of the narrative.
A full, frank and exhaustive enquiry into the nature and scale of abuse, is patently required, incorporating representatives of every club, to find out what happened, how it happened, who knew about it and, most importantly, to recommend and invoke measures that ensure such a situation can never be allowed to occur again.
Questions such as this are being continually asked by the indefatigable Michelle Gray but at no little personal cost.
Regularly, daily, on social media Michelle, her family and supporters are subjected to a level of invective that has to be seem to be believed.
At best, the criticism focusses on a perception that the Gray family has attacked Celtic FC without applying the same proportion of judgement to bitter rivals Rangers FC, employers of the aforementioned Gordon Neely, at worst, the accusations are far more pointed – and personal – alleging that the Gray’s quest for answers has its genesis in personal financial gain.
Many of the posts are heartlessly vindictive, referring to the death of Andrew Gray, suggesting the tragedy, which occurred after a number of years during which he had suffered from medically diagnosed PTSD directly related to being sexually abused at Celtic Boy’s Club, was Michelle’s fault and ‘nothing do with Celtic’.
Let’s get this straight.
Firstly, the victims of abuse are never to blame.
And secondly, loyalty, support for a football club, for any abstract institution, no matter how important it is to you, no matter how ingrained its history, trials, tribulations, successes and misfortunes has in your life, should not, cannot, take precedence over basic humanity.
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It’s not ‘disloyalty’ to expect your club to assume responsibility for mistakes, oversights, concealments or cover-ups. Football clubs, like every organisation, have responsibilities towards individuals wronged, discriminated against or abused.
Ignoring this is wrong.
And people who do so are not acting like true fans, a faithful supporters, or even, rational individuals. They’re acting like brain-washed dolts.
You don’t like people who have been the recipient of criminal behaviour asking questions about the how, why and when?
You’re in denial. And you need to ask yourself why.
Hate if you must. Haters gonna hate. But restrict your hatred for those whose aberrant behaviour truly deserves it. People like Torbett, Bennell, Neely and the deniers, the cover-up merchants and enablers who put the potential success of a football club above and beyond the welfare of genuinely innocent children.
And even then, hatred, is no effective substitute for the perpetrators and their acolytes being subjected to the full process of the law.
Criminal behaviour has a consequence. That’s how the system, with all its flaws and foibles, works.
No matter what associations mean to you, no matter the colour of the jersey abusers used to wear, no matter which club’s badge they represented whilst engaged on their grubby, deviant, criminal, life-ruining actions, reconciliation, answers and disclosure are much, much more important than obedience and blind loyalty.
In that place, fascism not only resides, but thrives.