The Offside Trust: Making Sport Safer For Children

Ben Gilby touched base with The Offside Trust‘s Alan Arber to find out more about the organisation who are supporting survivors of child sexual abuse in sport and are doing everything possible to ensure that sport is safer for the young.

Photo via: Alan Arber.

In November 2016, British football was rocked by a series of high-profile revelations regarding child sexual abuse. Several former professional players bravely waived their right to anonymity to speak out about their past abuse.

A number of those involved decided to set up The Offside Trust, an organisation committed to supporting survivors and working to make sport safer for children.

Former professional footballer Steve Walters, who played for clubs including Crewe Alexandra and Northwich Victoria is director of The Offside Trust.

The organisation works with and supports fellow survivors. In addition to Steve, the Offside Trust family includes other ambassadors such as Gary Cliffe (former Manchester City youth player), Dion Raitt (former Peterborough United youth player), Alan Arber (former Norwich City Reserves player), Callum Hancock (Professional boxer) and the late Billy Seymour, who played for Coventry City and Millwall.

The organisation aims to end abuse in sport, so kids can be kids and to support the healing journey for survivors of abuse.

The Offside Trust already has the support of clubs, players and former professionals throughout the sporting world and focus on all sports. The organisation works alongside governing bodies, charities and organisations that deal with safeguarding.

Above: The Offside Trust’s stand at one of their Awareness Days. Photo via: Alan Arber.

Over the past five years, The Offside Trust has supported and spoken confidentially to over a hundred survivors of abuse, many of whom never disclosed their abuse to anyone previously. Additionally, they have striven to ensure that safeguarding is at the top of the agenda of every sport both nationally and internationally.

Their work has identified inadequacies that exist on numerous levels and are working with relevant organisations to build suitable solutions. Crucially, the organisation has listened to; believed and supported each and every victim and survivor who has contacted them. Pre-Covid, the Trust had been able to organise various support events for survivors, including Offside Trust weekends hosted by Crystal Palace, Everton, Portsmouth, Bristol City and Wolverhampton Wanderers men’s clubs.

In the coming months, The Offside Trust are focusing on directly engaging with and educating young people and parents as key stakeholders in the safeguarding process as well as working alongside internet and technology bodies to campaign around grooming and internet safety. Allied to this, the organisation is working to develop support resources for family, loved ones and supporters of survivors.

One of the ambassadors for The Offside Trust is Alan Arber who uses his role to raise awareness in East Anglia. Alan talked to us about his experiences and the outstanding work he is doing for the organisation.

“One of the big issues I had regarding my abuse was the total lack of support I could access from day one. Myself and my wonderful volunteer Barry Howard developed a strategy to ensure that everyone who needed support in East Anglia knew where to find it and had people to talk to on the bad days – something which I never had until now.”

“We started out by sending a tweet to all the local clubs in the Norfolk area asking if they would like to support our work and allow us to get the word out via the medium of non-league football.”

“I was contacted by Mulbarton Wanderers FC and met the chairman Duane James who agreed that they would support our work. Every Mulbarton team from under sevens through to men’s, ladies and veterans would wear The Offside Trust logo on their shirts and the club put up a sponsored board.”

Above: Alan Arber pictured at Mulbarton Wanderers FC who are supporting The Offside Trust. Photo via: Alan Arber.

“This created quite a stir and many teams got in touch regarding working with us and many meetings ensued. We introduced the idea of Awareness Days where we would visit clubs to allow people to talk to us face to face and discuss any issues they had.”

“Our first Awareness Day was at Great Yarmouth Town FC and it was an excellent success. We spoke to many people about our work and most importantly one person came forward with abuse issues who we were able to direct to the right support and advice. A bucket collection also raised £100 for the Trust.”

“From this first Awareness Day, we were contacted by many clubs and leagues to ask how they could come on board and one such club was Shrublands FC, a club in Gorleston. I went to meet Andy Hannah the general manager of the club and he invited Shaun Platten to the meeting who was chairman of the Norfolk Suffolk Youth League. So successful was this meeting we were invited to their next meeting and I spoke for the first time publicly about my abuse and what we were doing to raise awareness and offer support to the league.”

“From this small start we really started to pick up pace and phone calls never seemed to stop regarding clubs and leagues wanting to come on board. Darrell Hibbert of East Point Sports has been wonderful in helping us get the correct merchandise which we sell on the Awareness Days to raise funds for our work. We sell mugs, beanie hats, corner flag sets, medical kits, water bottles and our popular Captain’s Respect armbands which has recorded sales of over a hundred. Our aim is for the armbands to be worn worldwide.”

Above: The Offside Trust’s Captain’s Respect armbands. Photo via: Alan Arber.

So, from little acorns grew a wonderful and sometimes taxing and stressful array of meetings and awareness days meaning the Trust name was well and truly out there in Norfolk.”

“With a growing number of their clubs on board, I was invited to speak to the Norfolk Sunday League. This was a league I played in for many years so to stand in front of people I knew for over thirty years and detail what had happened to me was somewhat harrowing and caused quite a stir with some members of the committee who knew me personally and had no idea. They asked me to do the League Cup draw at the meeting and we are now working on ideas to get the word out to all Sunday League clubs.”

Our next challenge was to get the largest youth league, the Combined Youth Football League, who have over seven thousand young players on board. I met chairman Darren Iles and within five days they announced that we were their official partner and we are working with them now to look at their safeguarding policies and seeing if we can help them get them even tighter moving forward.”

“In December 2019, we received an approach from Suffolk FA requesting a meeting in early January 2020 to look at working with them moving forward. I met James Morley and from this meeting plans were put in place to work together attending events and cup finals where we could display our Offside Trust stand.”

“The final event that we attended before the coronavirus put life on hold, was a conference held by Norfolk FA at the University of East Anglia which involved various safeguarding officers from across the region, including many local safeguarding officers from clubs in Norfolk and Suffolk.”

“I was asked to close the event with a thirty minute presentation and was given a standing ovation which was truly moving. We were invited to attend the Norfolk Senior Cup Final at Carrow Road, the home of Norwich City FC and to receive an award for our work.”

“The Norfolk FA have named us as their community partners and we will work with them on safeguarding literature. Norwich City FC have donated signed merchandise to us as well, which was fantastic.”

Above: The Norfolk FA have named The Offside Trust as an official community partner. Photo via: Alan Arber.

“One of the most wonderful occasions since getting involved was a fundraising match played against a team from the Channel Four television programme Hollyoaks. This came about after they included a storyline about abuse in sport. The match was played at Chester FC’s Deva Stadium in front of a thousand people. It was the first time that all the survivors had been on the pitch at the same time. Former players such as Trevor Sinclair, Dele Adebola, Lee Trundle, Rhodri Giggs – Ryan’s brother – and current Tranmere Rovers Women player Chelcee Grimes all gave up their time to play and support the event.”

“It is important to emphasise the success of our Awareness Days. Since January 2019, we have held twenty when we’ve turned up with our stand. At eighteen of those events, people have approached us for help. We are not qualified to support people ourselves, but we are able to signpost people to the correct places for help, whether it be ChildLine, Barnardo’s, Mind or Calm.”

It’s desperately sad that organisations such as The Offside Trust are needed, but the work they are doing and the awareness they are spreading is nothing short of outstanding. 

If you, or anyone you know could have experienced any of the issues mentioned in this article, among the groups you could contact are:

The Samaritans: 116 123 (24 hours).

NSPCC Football Hotline: 0800 023 2642.

NAPAC (Supporting Recovery From Child Abuse): 0808 801 0331.

The Calm Zone: 0800 585 858.

Male Survivor UK: 0808 800 5005

Childline: 0800 1111.

Survivors@Mcr (Twitter).

@1in6UK (Twitter).

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