Youth football abuse line gets 1,700 calls

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A CHARITY’S phone line set up in the wake of the scandal in youth football has received more than 1,700 calls.

The NSPCC set up the dedicated phone number last month after footballers started to come forward with claims of alleged abuse by coaches.

Former Southampton FC football coach Bob Higgins Picture: Solent News & Photo Agency

Former Southampton FC football coach Bob Higgins Picture: Solent News & Photo Agency

Now the child cruelty charity has said it received more than 1,700 calls since November 23, with 907 in the past fortnight.

It comes after former Southampton youth players Lee Smith, 45, and Jamie Webb, 47, waived their anonymity to tell The News of allegations of grooming by coach Bob Higgins.

The 63-year-old has denied the claims and was cleared of six indecent assaults on the direction of a judge in 1992.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: ‘It’s clear that for far too long, hundreds of people who suffered abuse as youngsters in the game have not been able to speak up. But it’s encouraging that so many are finally finding their voice in a climate today where they know they will be listened to and supported.

‘What’s important now is that those victims get that much-needed support, and that perpetrators are identified and brought to justice by police. Anyone can contact our hotline in confidence and we will get them the help they need.’

Jamie, who lived in Portsmouth but is now living out of the area, worked with Higgins for two years at Southampton before progressing.

He eventually quit the game, now partly blaming what he alleges he was subjected to by Higgins. Jamie previously alleged: ‘He attempted to put his hand down my shorts – I blocked him, thank God.

‘I now understand and recognise that he was preying to see (if I was) vulnerable.

‘I had a strong relationship with my dad and parents, and though I thought the world of Bob Higgins as a coach and mentor, there was no way I was prepared to let him do that to me.’

Former coach Higgins is now employed at Two Saints homeless charity, based in Fareham, The News revealed on Monday, although is not currently working there.

The Football Association has set up a wide-ranging review over claims across the country against other clubs.

The NSPCC’s football abuse helpline can be contacted 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.

Call Portsmouth Area Rape Crisis on (023) 9266 9516.