Crewe chairman stands down following Sheldon report into historical sexual abuse

Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
·3-min read

The chairman of Crewe has stood down following the publication of the Sheldon report into historical sexual abuse in football.

John Bowler said in a statement he had always intended to stand down once the report had been published.

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

Barry Bennell worked at Crewe in the 1980s and 1990s
Barry Bennell worked at Crewe in the 1980s and 1990s (PA)

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, added: “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.

John Bowler became Crewe chairman in 1987
John Bowler became Crewe chairman in 1987 (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“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 also had close associations with Manchester City prior to that.

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

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“We obviously welcome this decision. 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,” the statement read.

“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.

“Lessons must be learned. Longevity in an organisation is overrated – whether it’s in the boardroom or the dugout. Closed organisations run by small cliques can be breeding grounds for complacency or far worse. Transparency, honesty and humility should be championed above insularity and tribalism.”