A FORMER star player could remember the year his coach tried to rape him. It was the same year as the Mexico World Cup. 1986, the year England would be pushed out of the competition by Maradona’s notorious Hand of God.

But three decades later the memory of what Ronald Webb did to him in a Winifred Street bathroom still brought the man, now a professional in a high-pressure job, to tears.

Last week, 75-year-old Webb became the latest football coach to be found guilty of historic abuse of young players after a Bristol Crown Court jury took just 98 minutes to convict the Bath man of attempted rape.

In the past few years, high-profile cases have lifted the lid on shocking abuse at English football clubs since the 1970s.

Prolific predator Barry Bennell was jailed in February 2018 for 31 years after a court found he had abused 12 boys, many of them linked to football club Crewe Alexandra.

A judge described the coach as “pure evil”.

Swindon Advertiser:

Quarry Road Rec, where Ron Webb saw the youngsters play Picture: DAVE COX

After 20 ex-footballers came forward in November 2016 to report sexual abuse, police chiefs announced a nationwide investigation and the Football Association launched an inquiry.

FA chairman Greg Clarke described the football child sex abuse scandal as one of the biggest crises to ever hit the association.

The publication of an independent review, commissioned by the FA and led by Clive Sheldon QC, was last year delayed indefinitely by a new police investigation into abuse by Bennell and the retrial of Southampton and Peterborough coach Bob Higgins. The latter has since been found guilty of abusing 23 teenage boys.

Across the country, police forces have identified 300 alleged suspects, together with almost 850 victims. Operation Hydrant, the name given to the UK-wide investigation, received over 2,800 referrals from local forces and an NSPCC victims’ helpline.

Swindon Advertiser:

A sketch of Barry Bennell in court Picture: ELIZABETH COOK/PA

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs Council lead for child protection, said: “We were shocked, as a society, to see the scale of potential child sexual abuse in football when allegations began to emerge in November 2016.

“We are seeing many convictions of people who held a position of power, trust, and influence, but used it to abuse the children they should have been safeguarding.”

The national football abuse inquiry launched in 2016 was one of the things that, 30 years after his coach tried to rape him, convinced Webb’s former star player to come forward and report the abuse.

Interviewed by police, he said: “I kept making excuses, coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t rather than why I should.”

In 2017, the year the victim – now in his 40s – contacted police, he suffered a number of family health scares. He was passed over for a promotion at work, with feedback saying others found him unapproachable.

Under cross examination from Webb’s barrister, the victim told a Bristol jury: “I have difficulty in trusting people. I like to keep people at arm’s length. I don’t allow people to become close without first gaining their trust. I’m not saying it all derives from [the abuse]. I’m saying it’s possibly something to do with it.”

Bristol Crown Court heard the boy and his friends had been approached by Webb as they had a kickabout in an Old Town park.

He told the boys he was setting up a new team that would take part in the league, asking them if they wanted to join the new club.

“He’d just hang around with us. Really odd now, but back then we never thought anything of it,” the victim said.

“I don’t think he had any knowledge of football whatsoever. He probably knew the ball was round.”

The idea of the new club was an attractive one.

The boy played for another team, but was unable to take part in Sunday league games because of family commitments. Swapping to Webb’s new side would be a chance to get more match time.

The parents of the boys in the new team had met Webb, with suggestions that they had given the Winifred Street man some cash to support the club’s finances. But the junior team was not part of the league, nor, the boy thought, was it registered with the FA.

Webb attempted to rape the boy when he and a group of friends visited the coach’s Winifred Street home on their school lunchbreak. Webb barged into the bathroom as the boy was relieving himself.

It was only when his friends called to him as they left the property that the boy was able to escape. Three decades later, the victim told police had he not escaped: “I’ve probably cried more in the last three weeks than I have in the last 30 years. It’s been so exhausting having to tell people, having to share it.

“It’s not made me who I am, but it’s certainly affected me.

“It’s not my fault. It’s his fault.”

Swindon Advertiser:

Bristol Crown Court

Safeguarding at the forefront: the view from Wiltshire FA

ENGLISH football is now leading the way in protecting vulnerable youngsters from abuse, the head of the Wiltshire Football Association has said.

Since the scandal broke in 2016, the FA has completely overhauled its approach to safeguarding.

Rigorous rules require all coaches and referees to have up-to-date criminal record checks, all clubs must employ welfare officers and board members have to complete training in how to identify potential abuse.

“No stone is left unturned,” said Oliver Selfe, chief executive of the Wiltshire FA.

“If you’ve got ill intent it’s not an environment you want to be in, because you’re going to get found out very quickly. That’s how tight the measures are.”

Emma Cottier-Small, the association’s designated safeguarding officer, added: “I think football’s leading the way.”

Protecting children from abuse is essential, the Wiltshire FA says. There are around 5,000 under-18s playing in the North Wilts League alone. And the national FA works to a strict set of rules. Fail to meet them and the county association can be put into Ofsted-style special measures, with inspectors parachuted in to make improvements.

Parents should make sure the club is accredited with the FA and has a designated welfare officer.

Mr Selfe said: “Parents are more aware than ever in terms of where they’re sending their children these days. It’s not just because of the work of football, this is going across schools as well.”

PROFILE: Ron Webb's offending goes back decades

THERE was something about Ronald Webb that his victim’s mother didn’t like, Bristol Crown Court was told.

When her son told her in 2017 he had reported a childhood incident to police and detectives might be contacting her, she immediately asked if it concerned Webb.

And her concern was, perhaps, well placed.

In 1987, a year after the attack on her son took place, the coach was in Swindon Crown Court charged with stealing from the home of one of his young players. Webb was convicted of burglary, after he admitted stealing a video from a house on Belle Vue Road, Old Town.

Even then, Webb had a lengthy criminal record, with offences of burglary and theft.

At the time, the Adver quoted Recorder David Roberts praising Webb for his coaching work: “You have an appalling record, but you have been making strenuous efforts with your football team to divert these lads from hanging around the streets and getting into the sort of trouble you have got yourself into in the past. This is very praiseworthy.”

Webb later moved to Bath and six years ago was jailed for three months for observing a person engaged in a private act in a Keynsham toilet.

That offence saw him banned for life from every single public toilet in the UK. Last year, he complained to the Bath Chronicle that the loo ban was making his life hell. Webb said: “I’ve been going in bushes [since the ban]. I’m not beating about the bush, I’m being treated like an animal.”