Crewe chairman steps down after Sheldon’s football sexual abuse report

The chairman of Crewe has stood down following the publication of the Sheldon report into sexual abuse in football. John Bowler said in a statement he had always intended to step aside once the report had been published.

The report came out on Wednesday last week, after being commissioned by the Football Association in December 2016, and was critical of Crewe for not doing enough to protect boys from the serial abuser Barry Bennell.

Bowler said: “As the only person left with an association to that era, I truly believe it was important for me to see it through to conclusion. I am satisfied with the findings of the review that found that the club did not have any knowledge of Barry Bennell’s heinous crimes.”

Clive Sheldon concluded in his report that it was likely three Crewe directors discussed Bennell over concerns which hinted at his sexual interest in children. It also found there is no evidence that advice from a senior police officer to keep a “watching brief” on Bennell was heeded.

The club were also criticised for not checking in with boys who were staying overnight at Bennell’s house. “Had such steps been taken, this might have led to boys making disclosures to the club,” Sheldon wrote in his report.

Bowler, who became Crewe chairman in 1987 and joined the board in 1980, said: “I will always be deeply appalled and sorry that those young players and their families suffered at the hands of this evil predator. I personally and sincerely apologise to them all for their suffering. Crewe Alexandra is a community-based club with good people.

“I apologise to all our supporters that the name of the club has been tarnished. I have worked on the formation of a new board and know they will do all they can to move the club forward.

“Our academy remains one of the finest in the country and we have every confidence in our safeguarding policies and procedures. There is always room for improvement and as a club will welcome the future recommendations of the Sheldon review.”

Bennell was sentenced to 31 years in prison for 50 counts of child sexual abuse at Liverpool crown court in 2018, with the sentencing judge describing him as “the devil incarnate”.

He was sentenced to an additional four years in prison for further offences in 2020. Bennell worked at Crewe in the 1980s and 1990s, and had close associations with Manchester City before that.

The abuse survivors’ charity the Offside Trust issued a statement in response to Bowler stepping down.

“We obviously welcome this decision,” it said. “We thought it might have been made in 2016. And again in 2018. For it not to have happened once the Sheldon report was published rubbed salt in the wound of survivors.

“It has taken several days of pressure from survivors, journalists and ultimately the club’s own supporters to force this resignation. This was the very least that should have been expected and hopefully it clears the path for a new chapter. The Offside Trust looks forward to a positive relationship with Crewe Alex in the future – in the same way as we have enjoyed with many other clubs in the last five years.”

The club’s board later said in a statement that also thanked Bowler for his service: “The club apologises unreservedly for the hurt and suffering caused to all victims and survivors of Barry Bennell during his two periods of employment with the club.

“We are truly sorry for any abuse that was experienced because of Bennell’s abhorrent conduct. The club vehemently condemns all forms of abuse and reiterates its stance in ensuring lessons are learnt and football is a safe place for all.”