Ex-England star says sex abuse left his soul ’empty’ and he didn’t enjoy playing


Former England star Paul Stewart did not enjoy his greatest moments in the game due to the abuse he suffered as a child.

His ordeal at the hands of youth coach Frank Roper has haunted his life and left him with an “empty soul”.

Paul, 56, told the Mirror: “Even at the very top, playing in a Cup final, for England – I did not enjoy it.

“I was troubled all the way through my career. I tell young players I have a 1991 FA Cup winner’s medal in the house. But I don’t put it on show.

“It represents the pain and heartache I endured – I don’t even display the England caps. I had some highs in my career. I never enjoyed them because I had this empty soul.”

Ex England, Spurs and Liverpool Footballer Paul Stewart as a kid
Paul Stewart was 11 when he joined Frank Roper’s youth side
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Roper, who died in 2005, groomed the ex-Man City, Spurs and Liverpool star before he joined his Nova junior side in Manchester at the age of 11.

Paul tells how he was abused every day for four years in a BBC documentary. The dad-of-three turned to booze and drugs to bury the memories.

His revealed his secret to the Mirror in November 2016, after keeping it even from his family. “I tell young players now to talk to someone if they have a problem,” added Paul.

“I was always angry, disturbed. I was the master of playing a role, looking like I was happy but I was a nightmare.

We featured Paul's story
We featured Paul’s story

“You get to 24, and you are next to Lineker, Rush, and Barnes. It is an embarrassing thing to say by then. You keep the secret, but all the while there is the devastating impact on family.”

He warned that paedophile coaches leave children isolated, adding: “When Roper said he would kill my brothers and parents, I believed him.”

By the time he signed for Liverpool in 1992 he was taking cocaine every day. “I was in self-destruct mode,” he added. “Playing for my country was all I ever wanted. Yet I was drunk for that first England team meeting.”

He breaks down as he recalls telling mum Joyce and dad Bert about Roper. “I was 52 ,” he said. “It was tearing me apart.”

Liverpool's Gary Gillespie tackles Tottenham's Paul Stewart in his 80s footballing heyday - which he now says he could not enjoy
Liverpool’s Gary Gillespie tackles Tottenham’s Paul Stewart in his 80s footballing heyday – which he now says he could not enjoy

Joyce, 81, who brought up Paul and his two brothers in Manchester, said: “Roper took us all in.”

Now, Paul works with the Football League giving safeguarding advice to young players, coaches and families.

Former Crewe player Andy Woodward revealed his abuse at the hands of soccer paedophile, Barry Bennell, just before Paul went public in 2016.

Hundreds of other abused players then contacted the NSPCC. Woodward tells the BBC: “It is a dirty secret.

“A lot of people take it to the grave.”

Long-awaited abuse report

Former Crewe player Andy Woodward under an umbrella outside court
The revelations of former Crewe player Andy Woodward sparked the report

The long-awaited report into the football abuse scandal is about to be published, five years after it was commissioned.

Hundreds of victims came forward to give evidence of abuse – some dating back almost 50 years.

Clive Sheldon QC was asked by the Football Association to look at the issue in the sport in 2016.

It followed the courageous testimony of former players about the ordeal which they endured dating back to the 1970s.

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The report began in November 2016 with the revelations of former Crewe player Andy Woodward, who was targeted by Barry Bennell, football’s most prolific paedophile.

Ex-Spurs star Paul Stewart then told how he was abused as a junior player by coach Frank Roper in Manchester.

The independent review was delayed by further allegations in the Barry Bennell case. He has now been jailed for 34 years.

At least 839 alleged victims had come forward while 294 alleged suspects had been identified by the end of 2017.

The review is looking into what the FA and clubs knew and did about allegations of child sexual abuse from 1970 to 2005.

Mr Sheldon has been in “close and constant co-operation” with Operation Hydrant – the police operation looking into the issue.

He wrote to all the survivors in December to give them an update on the inquiry.

They will each receive a copy of the report, if they want one, ahead of its publication tomorrow.

  • Football’s Darkest Secret begins on March 22 at 9pm on BBC One. The series will then be available on iPlayer.

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