The FA has suspended Crewe Alexandra's director of football, Dario Gradi, after it was claimed he visited the parents of a child who had reported abuse during the 1970s to "smooth over" the claims, it was reported on Sunday (11 December). The suspension comes pending an inquiry by the FA into the allegations.
The allegations relate to a claim made about former Chelsea scout, Eddie Heath, who ex-Chelsea player Gary Johnson says abused him "hundreds of times", and that he was paid £50,000 by the club to keep quiet about. Another alleged victim of Heath went on to claim that Gradi visited his family home in 1974, while he was the assistant head-coach at Chelsea, after he claimed Heath had assaulted him.
Gradi is said to have convinced the parents of the child – now in his 50s – not to complain. The alleged victim told The Independent Gradi told his parents: "'Eddie, he gets a bit close to the boys. I'm sorry if he's over-stepped the mark in his fondness this time.'"
In a statement issued last month Gradi, who was the manager at Crewe Alexandra, the club at the centre of the abuse claims, between 1983-2007, said: "Aside from denying any wrongdoing, it would be inappropriate and unfair on all parties to comment piecemeal through the media at this time in connection with historic allegations. Suffice to say, I will do everything within my power to assist all investigatory authorities into what is becoming a wide-ranging and important enquiry into historic sexual abuse."
The claim follows those made by former Crewe Alexandra board member Hamilton Smith, who served between 1986 and 1990, and said the club's board had been aware of allegations made against former youth-coach Barry Bennell. Bennell, who has been convicted of several child-abuse charges, became the focus of the scandal after former Crewe player Andy Woodward, waived his anonymity to speak out about historic abuse at the club.
Smith told the Guardian, last month, that a board meeting took place at the club after it was alleged by the friend of a parent whose child played at the club, that he had been abused by Bennell. He said that though then-chairman Norman Rowlinson initially recommended they "get him [Bennell] out," he had been allowed to stay on. The board decided, however, that Bennell should not be left alone with the young players, nor should they be able to stay at his home overnight.
After Woodward spoke out, a number of other players came forward, leading to remarks by the Professional Footballers Association that these may be the "tip of the iceberg". Since then, the NSPCC has set up a dedicated helpline in response to the growing scandal. The organisation said it had received over 860 calls in its first week.
The NSPCC's dedicated helpline will be available 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.