England boss Gareth Southgate: We must never be complacent over child protection

PA Sport Staff
·4-min read

England manager Gareth Southgate maintains lessons must be learned from the “errors that have been made in the past” in child safeguarding failings as football looks to play a part in helping make society safer for young people.

On Wednesday, Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham offered a “heartfelt apology” to the survivors of historical sexual abuse following the publication of an independent review by Clive Sheldon QC.

The report said the governing body was guilty of inexcusable “institutional failings” in delaying the implementation of child safeguarding measures between the autumn of 1995 and the spring of 2000.

A general view of an England and FA branded corner flag
The FA “fully supported and accepted” the findings of the Sheldon review (Mike Egerton/PA)

The FA “fully supported and accepted” the findings, with the governing body adding that steps were already under way to implement those recommendations as part of a “wider safeguarding strategy”.

Southgate was asked for his reaction to the Sheldon review when announcing the England squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers on Thursday afternoon.

“I think it’s a hugely serious area,” Southgate said. “First and foremost my thoughts go to the lads that were brave in coming forward some while ago now and standing up and bringing this case even more to light than it was.

“As was stated yesterday, everybody’s got to reflect on a period of history where things were different and were done differently and not with the level of care that every child that plays sport deserves.

“I think there was recognition of errors that have been made in the past, which was important to acknowledge.”

While progress had been made since 2000, the FA accepted it was “unacceptable that the correct protocols were not in place before then”.

Southgate continued: “We are in a different place now. To retain my coaching licence I have to go through a lot of safeguarding checks and everybody within the game would be the same.

“But we must never be complacent about that area because unfortunately, events or activities that involve children sometimes attract the wrong sort of people.

“We have got to make sure that, not only our game, but society is safe for our young people.”

The conduct of eight clubs was investigated as part of the Sheldon review.

A general view of St Mary’s Stadium, Southampton.
Southampton commissioned an independent Barnardo’s review in May 2019, which is ongoing (Mike Hewitt/PA)

Southampton had pre-empted the publication of the report by issuing an open letter on Tuesday night saying they were “deeply sorry” to all those affected by the abusive behaviour of former coach Bob Higgins during the 1970s and 1980s.

In May 2019, the Premier League club independently commissioned the Barnardo’s review, which is ongoing.

Current Southampton manager Ralph Hasenhuttl said: “For me it is not so easy for me to talk about things which happened at this time in the past.

“The club will do the reaction which is necessary to do (from the Barnardo’s review), then you will listen about it.”

Brighton manager Graham Potter felt the details of the Sheldon review should serve as “a warning sign to us all” over the high standards needed for safeguarding measures.

“It is very disturbing, very distressing news,” Potter said. “It is a warning that we have to be vigilant, we have to remain on our guard because of course it’s horrific.

“It’s a warning sign to us all that we have to keep the high standards that we have, and our thoughts go to the victims.”

The full report of the Sheldon review is more than 700 pages long and also covers girls’ football.

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.

Arsenal Women manager Joe Montemurro was left “shell-shocked” by the findings and that the issues were not dealt with at the time.

“It is really, really important now that we learn,” Montemurro said. “I’m really applauding a lot of clubs and scenarios that are putting safeguarding and these issues at the forefront.

“I know, working in women’s football, that it’s always an important issue, to make sure the wellbeing and safety of my players is paramount, that has to be the bottom line of everything that I do.

“I am glad that it’s coming to the forefront, and we all as clubs and organisations in football, take real care with it and make sure that never happens again.”

Women In Football chief executive Jane Purdon added: “Sexual abuse is devastating and ruins lives.

“We welcome the publication of the Sheldon report and our thoughts are with every victim of abuse.

“The report details incidents of the sexual abuse of girls as well as boys.

“As women’s and girls’ football continues to grow it’s important that the highest safeguarding standards are in place – for all footballers, whatever their gender.”