Chelsea apologise 'profusely' to Johnson over abuse

London (AFP) –


Gary Johnson received a public apology from English football giants Chelsea on Saturday over the sexual abuse he suffered as a young player from late scout Eddie Heath in the 1970s.

The club -- who had been heavily criticised after Johnson claimed he was paid £50,000 ($63,000) by them not to go public with his allegations -- issued a statement praising Johnson's courage in talking about the traumatic experience.

"It is clear that Gary Johnson suffered unacceptably while in our employment in the 1970s for which the club apologises profusely," read the statement.

Johnson is one of around 350 people to have told British police they were victims of abuse by football coaches in a mounting scandal that has rocked the sport.

Chelsea also explained they had felt with the original agreement with Johnson a confidentiality clause was normal procedure but had revoked it after the slew of allegations of sex abuse across English football had emerged in the past fortnight.

Johnson has told them through his lawyers that there were other cases of abuse at the club while Heath was employed there but had been unable to find any other players.

"We certainly have no desire to hide any historic abuse we uncover from view" and are "fully committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all children and young people who are in our care or attending our premises".

Ex-Chelsea football star Alan Hudson said it was "common knowledge" that Heath was a paedophile.

"It was common knowledge that Eddie Heath was a 'nonce' (slang for paedophile)," Hudson wrote on Facebook, cited by British tabloid newspapers.

"I was around and it was common knowledge that Mr Heath was a danger to us youngsters, but luckily for me, he never came near me, almost as if I had a sixth sense."

Players from other London clubs he worked for, Leyton Orient and Charlton, have also come forward about his predatory behaviour.

Jimmy Scott, former skipper of Orient where Heath worked during the 1950s and 60s, said he had retorted he would punch him when he was propositioned whilst a former trainee from Charlton, where he worked in the early 1980s, claimed in The Times he had 'touched up' two of his team-mates.

- 'Insular' -

Former Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said he didn't believe the Football Association (FA) were in a good position to investigate how their predecessors had dealt with the matter.

Sutcliffe, sports minister in the Labour Government from 2007 and 2010, said there was concern during his tenure about how the FA dealt with governance of the sport and with youth development.

The 63-year-old said it would be preferable if an independent body, such as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport looked at the issue rather than the FA investigating itself.

"What I've seen in football over the years is that they're very narrow, very insular, and may not do a proper job even though with the right intentions," he said.

According to reports, a former employee of Southampton Football Club accused of abusing young players in the 1980s is still working in the sport.

BBC's Radio 4 said it understood the employee, who faced allegations from four former players, left Southampton after concerns were raised about his conduct with youth team members, but went on to work for other clubs one of which asked that he leave as well.

He was accused of inappropriate behaviour by a former Southampton youth player -- the fourth one to come forward but who wished to remain anonymous -- on the same programme on Saturday.

The club said Friday it had been contacted by police "following information supplied to us in relation to historical child abuse within football".

Former Southampton manager Lawrie McMenemy -- in charge from 1973 to 1985 and winning the FA Cup as a Second Division side in 1976 beating Manchester United -- -- said he was 'shocked and disgusted' by the claims of grooming and sexual abuse.

"Certainly if I'd known that was happening in my time -- and I don't think it did happen in my time -- I would have got it killed straightaway," he told the BBC.

"If I thought for one minute that sort of thing was happening, I'd have acted ... certainly I'd have gone straight to the police."

Former England captain and Southampton star Alan Shearer also urged footballers to come forward with allegations of sexual abuse, saying he was "shocked and deeply saddened" by the recent revelations.