As the British football sex scandal gains steam, Richard Lutz remembers his school where a sports coach preyed on boys. It has caused a national scandal in the US
As Britain grapples with the growing scandal about football sex abuse. and as Chelsea grudgingly admits it paid £50,000 to a young player to stop him talking about being sexually attacked, it raises the spectre of what happened decades ago in my school in New York.
At the time, I was blithely unaware of the crimes committed by football coach Phil Foglietta, an ex soldier who raped and attacked his young students in the locker room, in his car and in his own home.
He has since died. But the crimes remain scarred in dozens of boys, now in their fifties and sixties, who were assaulted and then terrorised into silence by the man and lived through absolute denials by the school regime at the time.
My school, Poly Prep in New York, tried to hush it up. Foglietta, a tough little guy, ran a successful football high school team for 25 years amid a series of accusations. He survived them all until he suddenly ‘was retired’ when the claims became an avalanche in the early nineties. The school bosses never told police. It was a crime in itself.
But a group of students who were attacked and molested kept the fight on with big coverage in national papers. Even within the last month Esquire magazine has reminded people of the Poly Prep scandal- fifty years after the coach began preying on his charges. (click this paragraph for full story)
The same, I believe, will happen in British football. Former Chelsea player Gary Johnson claims the club, an international name in the sport, paid him £50,000 in ‘shut up’ money after he complained that a chief scout abused him sexually when he was a young apprentice footballer. According to the British paper The Daily Mirror, in 2015 Mr Johnson signed a confidentiality agreement and accepted the cash from the club. But Chelsea does not accept blame and says the accusation ‘will be investigated.’
Numbers will change but as of Friday night, The NSPCC, the children’s charity in the UK, said more than 860 people had called its dedicated football hotline, set up a week ago after other former players alleged past abuse by coaches.
What I personally remembered about Foglietta (or Foggy as he was called) is dim. I was not a football player and never came near the guy. But I do remember how there was always a tight clique around him. He was tough, profane, funny, articulate. He was also an unconvicted abuser who was protected by school bosses.
According to reports and court proceedings, he was first accused of paedophilia crimes within a year of beginning his job. A student claimed he’s been attacked. Foglietta denied it and the student and his parents were told to desist or there would be ‘severe consequences.’
In 1991 the coach retired, after a quarter of a century at the school. And only later did the administration admit, under pressure, it was because of ‘sexual misconduct’.
In 2004. a lawsuit was filed. But a judge said the case was too old. In 2012, the school settled out of court but took no blame. In Feb 2014 nearly five decades after the man’s reign of terror began, the school, under new management, formally apologised.
Will this be the template for UK football?