Paul Stewart column: How my past is helping to bring about change

Paul Stewart
Paul Stewart

As this month sees the second anniversary of me coming forward and revealing what happened to me as a child playing in youth football, I wanted to write about what I have been doing over the last two years and what changes have been made as a direct result of the disclosures regarding the historical abuse in football.

After the initial media storm and coming to terms with being back in the spotlight, I wanted to make sure there was a reason for revealing my past.

I wasn’t interested in blaming any organisation or club, although questions still need to be answered.

The independent review, commissioned by the FA, should address this, but I’m not over-confident as this should have been released in September and its findings made public.

In terms of my life, some of you will know I have written a book: ‘Damaged My Story.’

It has had great reviews and I am really happy with how it depicted my life. I never intended to put pen to paper in a biography – in all honesty, my playing career didn’t warrant it – but when 2016 came along everything changed and I think I had a story to tell.

For those who haven’t read it, don’t expect a typical sports autobiography. This is far from it.

Yes, it depicts my sporting memoirs, my time at Spurs with Gazza and all the clubs I played for, but it also recounts the abuse I suffered as a child and the effects that abuse has had on my life. It’s a book every parent whose children are in regulated activities should read.

I set up an organisation called SAVE (Safeguarding And Victim Engagement), along with David White, my team-mate at Manchester City, Ian Ackley and Derek Bell, all survivors of historical abuse. We raise funds to put survivors of any kind of abuse through courses in safeguarding, with a view to them working in sport or in any setting involving children or young vulnerable adults.

All four of us have undertaken these courses and have become safeguarding professionals.

We have our own CPD (Continuing Professional Development)-accredited course that survivors can undertake. This has a pass/fail element that other courses out there don’t have.

We had our first nine cohorts pass the course this week, which is a great achievement for our organisation.

Also SAVE delivers awareness training at professional football clubs, and to parents and coaches of the academies surrounding safeguarding.

Spurs, Liverpool, Watford and Bolton, are among the clubs we have visited.

I was also invited to be an ambassador of an organisation called the Street Soccer Foundation, which I am now heavily involved with.

This organisation works with Premier League and EFL clubs, delivering a 10-week course to homeless and hard- to-reach individuals with a view to integrating them back into society and giving them a purpose and willingness to change their situation.

The success rate is phenomenal as most of these individuals don’t want to be in such a situation and just need help in order to have a meaning in life.

Through the foundation and football we have been able to change lives.

This is going to be rolled out nationwide over the coming season and will have a massive impact on a growing problem within our towns and cities.

Finally, and something that is very close to home, is the Awaken Project.

I was approached by the education officer of this team, which was formed after the tragic death of Charlene Downes.

It is a specialist unit made up of police, social workers and education officers working to reduce child sexual exploitation and child criminal exploitation within our town.

It pains me to say that Blackpool has one of the highest crime rates in the country in relation to these two criminal activities and I was invited to help raise awareness of the issue.

I will be visiting schools and colleges, speaking at events and making people aware of the problems youngsters face in the Blackpool area.

My life has certainly taken a different path since my revelation in 2016.

I still struggle with what happened to me in my past, but the thought that I may be able to prevent it happening in the future is the reason I came forward.

If you have any questions or views on any subject, please feel free to contact me via The Gazette at tango@blackpoolgazette.co.uk