- Barry Bennell guilty of 43 counts of child sexual abuse against 11 victims
- Former football coach had reputation Steve Fleet was aware of in 1979
- Fleet recalled knowing something wasn’t right and urged Manchester City away
- He said: ‘I just couldn’t have him near the club. I told them I would leave’
Manchester City were warned by one of their own coaches in the late 1970s that Barry Bennell was a risk to children.
Sportsmail has spoken to former City youth-team manager Steve Fleet, who says he threatened to quit should they give Bennell a permanent job at the club.
Fleet’s revelations raise serious questions over whether the club could have intervened at the time and whether their actions subsequently put more than 100 boys in danger.
Manchester City were warned about Barry Bennell (left) by Steve Fleet – their own coach
City said that a comprehensive review commissioned by the club in November 2016 had identified ‘serious allegations of child sex abuse’ against Bennell, who coached a number of junior boys’ teams that acted as feeder clubs for City.
The Premier League leaders also revealed that there had been allegations made against a second man, John Broome, who is ‘deceased and is not believed to be linked to Bennell’.
Civil claims for damages have already been launched by Bennell’s victims against City, and Liverpool Crown Court heard this month that he was treated like ‘God’ at City’s Maine Road stadium in the 1980s.
Bennell was not sent to prison for the first time until 1995 but Fleet claims he raised the alarm to City in 1979.
Fleet told Sportsmail: ‘I could tell as soon as I saw him — something wasn’t right.
‘I knew who he was. Everyone on the football scene did. You’d hear it on the coaching circuit. Everybody had a bit to say. ‘Don’t touch him with a bargepole — there’s something not right about him’. It was the gossip. Nobody had seen anything but they could all sense it.
‘In the school holidays he’d fetch his kids to train with other school kids and I’d be in charge of that. It was nauseating. The kids would all follow him. The way he spoke to them, it was like baby talk, he was too familiar with them.’
Fleet’s revelations raise serious questions over whether the club could have intervened
Fleet, a former City goalkeeper, said he was summoned to see Ken Barnes, who was then the club’s chief scout, because City wanted to employ Bennell as a youth development officer. ‘Ken wanted to bring him in to work with me,’ said Fleet. ‘He had a load of great kids playing for his teams and he was trying to get in at all the top clubs. Ken wanted him.’
Fleet, 79, says he passed on his concerns to Barnes, who died in 2010. ‘We were great friends and the only confrontation we ever had was over Barry Bennell,’ said Fleet. ‘I told him — I can’t work with him. I put my job on the line. I didn’t want him near my club.’
Fleet recalled that he and Barnes went to see then manager Tony Book to discuss the situation, and were told to go to the now-deceased director Chris Muir.
One victim told Liverpool Crown Court that he thought Barnes was aware that Bennell was an abuser, but Fleet thinks Barnes may have not grasped the paedophile’s sick motivation. ‘I think that Ken thought football was a man’s game where it couldn’t happen,’ said Fleet. ‘Maybe he was naive.’
But Fleet, who has fully participated in City’s ongoing investigation into their links with Bennell, adds that he had to stand his ground to keep the monster out of the club he loved.
‘They tried to persuade me,’ he recalls. ‘They said he was a star-maker but I just couldn’t have him near the club. I told them I would leave.’
Bennell was never given the job, but continued to run boys’ teams in the area and would often take youngsters to matches at Maine Road courtesy of complimentary tickets from City.
Fleet, who left City in 1981, said: ‘Scouts still at the club after I left told me they’d eventually got rid of him for selling the complimentary tickets they gave him for kids. I’m not sure. I think they found out about him.’
Fleet’s account is echoed by Len Davies, who spent many years scouting youth-team players for City. Davies, who is now deceased, stated in a 2000 book that fears over Bennell were ‘aired on many occasions’.
Bennell has been convicted of child sexual abuse and the number of victims could exceed 100
He added: ‘Most of us at Manchester City, including those responsible for the enhancement of junior football, were in awe at the coaching ability of Barry Bennell. I think the majority of us . . . were taken in and let down. Hundreds of people, and all the kids who played for him, trusted him.
‘I only hope that the boys and their parents who suffered will forgive us in that we, too, were beguiled and hoodwinked by this terrible person.’ Davies adds that ‘inquiries about his behaviour never revealed his paedophiliac mentality until it was too late’.
City said on Thursday they are continuing to ‘exhaustively examine’ a number of reports of ‘historic anomalous behaviours, no matter the level of gravity and strength of potential connection to Manchester City, over a period spanning more than 50 years’.
The club said in a statement: ‘Firstly, and most importantly, Manchester City FC offers its heartfelt sympathy to all victims for the unimaginably traumatic experiences they have endured.’
–Credit: Sport | Mail Online