DAVID Lean was just 12 when he was cared for at a holiday camp in Butlin by pedophile Barry Bennell.
Using his position of trust as a youth football coach, the shameless predator managed to convince the boy’s oblivious parents to let him stay at his home, where he sexually abused multiple victims.
Bennell’s horrific crimes – revisited in BBC drama Floodlights this week – were among the most shocking revelations in the recent child abuse scandal that has marred the beautiful game.
But despite a host of safeguarding efforts put in place in its wake, victims have warned that the abuse is still rampant today – and that the scandal extends far beyond one sport.
“We’re kidding ourselves if we think it’s not happening today,” David told The Sun. “It’s much bigger than football – it’s a hobby, it’s a sport, it’s any activity where predators can have access to children.
“Coaches are the most reliable people and they have the key to your door.
“Parents, to this day, assume everything is safe – and that scares me.”
The Sun can reveal a number of former Premier League stars have now said they were sexually abused by football managers as children.
The players are part of a group of nearly 100 former professionals and amateurs who receive free support and advice from the Survivors Support Advocate (SSA) service, an FA-backed group.
Most of those who have had the courage to speak out have been bullied by trusted coaches who have promised to turn them into elite stars by grooming them from an early age.
A football insider said: “The players who have come forward wish to remain anonymous at this time, but a few of them have played in the Premier League.
“They have not reported the abuse to the police, but may decide to do so at some point in the future.
“These men went through unimaginable pain and pain and the system completely failed them by not protecting them as children.”
Monster abused boys with impunity
Our report comes as the new BBC drama tells the true story of survivor Andy Woodward, who was repeatedly abused by predatory football manager Barry Bennell.
Floodlights, which aired on BBC2 this week, shows how in 2016 Woodward bravely waived his right to anonymity to ensure Bennell was returned to prison.
The pedophile, now 58, worked as a youth coach at Crewe Alexandra and as a scout for Man City. He was able to abuse boys with impunity despite officials at both clubs apparently having suspicions about his behavior.
The case prompted a large number of survivors to come forward and Bennell, then living in Milton Keynes, was sentenced to 31 years in prison in 2018 for abusing 12 boys between 1979 and 1991.
By the end of 2019, 15 men had been charged with historic sexual assaults, including former Newcastle United manager and youth scout George Ormond and former Southampton and Peterborough manager Bob Higgins.
A talented footballer who later played for Preston North End reserve team, David Lean was targeted by Bennell at a Butlin holiday camp in Pwllheli, North West Wales, aged 12 years.
He first reported what happened in 2013. However, the prosecution decided not to pursue the case, saying it was not in the public interest.
It wasn’t until he appealed the decision to the Child Sexual Abuse Review Board that Bennell was charged and sentenced to two years in prison in 2015. He ultimately only served 12 months .
David then secured a five-figure settlement from the former owners of Butlin’s.
The 54-year-old, from Preston, Lancashire, is now helping to support other survivors and is training to become a counsellor.
He said: “Butlins gave Bennell the opportunity to meet children but, more importantly, to meet their parents. This is a key question.
“We talk about football, but it could be the scouts or a music club.
“It’s about a predator who finds an opportunity to care for a child and build a relationship with his mother and father at a time when they have their dream in their hands.
“All I ever wanted to do was play football and be a footballer. It was everything in my life and I didn’t even have pushy parents.
“Bennell was very good at what he did. He was charismatic and heterosexual, athletic and manly and he was great with parents, like a lot of these people are.”
“Do I believe that today criminals are able to infiltrate grassroots football clubs? Absolutely, and that’s why I’m here.
No one ever checks child policies or says, ‘Before I leave my child with you for a full week or football camp, can I just check your policies?’ That’s not done at all.”
FA ‘could and should have’ done more
Last year, Sheldon’s 700-page, four-year review of the child abuse scandal was finally published and found there were “at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors” with the true number “likely to be much higher”.
He went on to say that the FA “could and should have done more to keep the children safe”.
The SSA, which is also backed by the PFA, was set up in 2019 to help survivors access therapy and legal and financial support and is run by Ian Ackley, who was abused by Bennell from 1979 to 1983.
Ackley revealed: “Of the 99 people we’re helping, there’s probably a pretty even split between grassroots players and professional players.
“We also support coaches and referees, so abuse has been pretty much everywhere in the game.
“A lot has changed since 2016, but there is still a lot to be done to protect children.
“Sex offenders are often very smart and manipulative people and too often only the less smart get caught.
“How many coaches do you see getting convicted of sexual abuse? It’s pretty regular.
“Whether it’s a Premier League club or a semi-professional club, the issues are the same and the latest research shows that the worse the abuse, the higher you rise in the elite game. “
Pervert groomed kids on Snapchat and bribed them with FIFA points
Former Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool midfielder Paul Stewart is another who has bravely spoken out about the abuse he suffered as a child.
He was mugged by football manager Frank Roper and is now giving save sessions at EFL academies.
Today, every club is required to have a backup manager to protect youngsters from predators – but cases still occur.
Earlier this year, Hampshire football manager Alfie Morel, 24, was convicted of eight offenses against children and jailed for 15 years.
Court heard he used social media apps like Snapchat to groom ‘soccer crazy’ boys for eight months in 2020 and 2021, while boy revealed he bribed him with points of Fifa football video games.
Former soccer star Paul, 57, said: “Elite football has come a long way in terms of protection, but they can afford to do it. My concern is with the grassroots.
“I think the base became a breeding ground for predators because they were dreammakers, right?
“This preparation process was about telling parents how much they could help their child become a footballer.
“The rewards are huge if you keep playing in the Premier League or one of the top clubs in the EFL, so these people are using that as leverage to perpetrate the abuse.
“In the sessions I give, I reference that because we have this misconception that these people prey on the weak and the vulnerable and prey on them – but I was none of that.
“I’m a big, burly boy – 6ft odd – and even my friends were like, ‘We couldn’t believe it when you showed up.
“If clubs have the right policies and procedures, these people won’t be able to function.”
Paul believes that protection is a “parental matter first and foremost”, but the right questions need to be asked.
“If parents leave their children with sports organizations or clubs, they should ask themselves a few simple questions: do you have a protection policy?
“Is it easily accessible? Who do I contact if I have a problem and how is it reported?
“If an organization is reluctant to give you these answers, then don’t leave your child there because there is clearly something wrong.
“All clubs should have this in place. Parents won’t ask these simple questions, but they leave their most prized possessions to these organizations and assume they’ll be fine – in most cases they will be, but in some cases they won’t.
The Survivor Support Advocate provides survivors with access to therapy, legal and financial support. David shared his story to encourage others with similar experiences to seek help and support, and to raise awareness of the work of the NSPCC.