October 25, 2020

Football sex abuse claims: Chelsea accused of making secret payments to ex-youth player for silence over claims against former chief scout

After 40 years of torment, Gary Johnson hoped he would get justice for the abuse he says he suffered as a Chelsea FC youth player.

Yet the ex-forward, who said he was sexually assaulted by chief scout Eddie Heath hundreds of times in three years, said he had no success with the police and that the Professional Footballers Association did not return his calls.

He felt he had no other option but to approach his super-rich former club, which refused to accept any blame but last year paid him £50,000 to keep quiet.

Now, in an exclusive interview, Gary, 57, bravely waives his right to anonymity to share his experiences to support other victims of the soccer abuse scandal.

Gary Johnson in his Chelsea kit in 1979

Gary, part of Chelsea’s first team from 1978 to 81, said Heath groomed him and sexually assaulted from the age of 13.

He said: “I felt shame, I felt my childhood had been taken away. I spent my late teens in turmoil, absolute turmoil.”

And speaking of the payment from his old club, he said: “I think that they were paying me to keep a lid on this.

“Millions of fans around the world watch Chelsea. They are one of the biggest and richest clubs in the world.

 

 

Gary Johnson pictured in 1980 in his playing days at Chelsea

““All their fans deserve to know the truth about what went on. I know they asked me to sign a gagging order and how many others are there out there? They may have paid others for their silence. I hope and pray no clubs are allowed to cover this up – no one should escape justice. We need total transparency now for the good of the game.”

This week Chelsea waived the clause in Gary’s settlement banning him from speaking about abuse after details of his claim were leaked to the media.

Last night it was suggested the club – ranked the seventh most valuable in the world at £1.35billion – may have broken Premier League rules by -sanctioning a secret payment to Gary.

Under the regulations, teams are obliged to notify the league and the Football Association of any evidence they obtain of child abuse.

It is not known if the club made any attempt to contact authorities about his allegations or if any other former players have approached with similar claims.

Chelsea was bought by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in 2003. During the 1970s it was still owned by descendants of club founder Gus Mears.

Gary, from Peckham, South London, joined the club as an 11-year-old schoolboy in 1970.

He said the attacks by Heath, who is now dead, started in 1973.

This went on until Gary was around 16 or 17 and happened two or three times a week. He said the bachelor abused at least three other youngsters.

Gary recalled: “When we had summer holiday games, the kit locker was in the changing rooms and he was always there, you thought nothing of it then, but word was going around to be wary of him – but at 12 you did not know that meant. I was just too young.

“He came to the house to meet my parents, he would have been to a game.

“He built up a personal relationship with them. Then he would say, ‘I am going to a game, can I take Gary?’ and that was the start, I realise it is grooming now but that term was not around then.

“The first encounter sexually was around 1973, I was about 13 or 14. I had a row with my father, bad day at school and I confided in Eddie when he turned up at the house.

“I said to him, ‘Can I come and stay at your house?’ because I had stayed a couple of times before and nothing had happened.

“He always had boys staying with him at his house in Leytonstone. I went with him this particular time and went up to his house and he sat me down with a Coke, crisps, chocolate, saw I was still upset.

“He said, ‘This will make you feel better’, and he put on a pornographic film.

“I had not heard of that, they were under the counter, and I thought ‘why not’ but I got aroused and the next thing I knew, my trousers were around my ankles.”

He said Heath performed a sex act on him, adding: “I felt embarrassed. But he got me from that point on.

“Then, every -opportunity he would take it – the same thing would happen. Then he would get me naked in bed, try more adventurous things.

“He said he was in love with me, he was hooked. I know of at least three others.

“During the course of this three to four years, he got me to perform in -threesomes with other boys, so I know there are other victims out there – it is now up to them if they come forward.”

Gary, now a London cabbie, said he initially thought Heath’s behaviour was normal and even enjoyed the attention.

He explained: “I was so young and naive, I had trouble coping with the mix of feelings, I was just a kid. I did not want to be gay – I did not truly understand what it meant.”

After keeping his ordeal a secret for decades, Gary first went to the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Yewtree in 2014, but he said he was advised to “go back to Chelsea” with his case.

The PFA did not return his calls, he says.

Accused former Chelsea chief scout Eddie Heath
pictured in the 1970s

He then turned to law firm Slater and Gordon, which approached Chelsea with regard to compensation.

Gary added: “What makes me so angry is that I went to them to say I had been abused and they basically said, ‘prove it’.

“It made me feel like they thought I was faking it, that’s how it felt anyway.

“I felt shame, I felt my childhood had been taken away from me. I spent my late teens in turmoil.

“I am angry that my father, who is 84 and suffering from dementia, needed to confirm Eddie Heath visited our home.

“My sister Carol had her suspicions but the family thought Eddie was taking other boys home as well.

“She asked various questions in the early days which I did not even know about because I was so young.

“He told them he was not married but was living with his sister. We have since found out he did not have a sister. I believe it was all a front for the abuse.”

In a report by consultant psychiatrist Dr Roger Kennedy, supporting his claim against Chelsea, Gary discovered for the first time that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

The doctor stated: “Mr Johnson has been haunted by the abuse for most of his life, but the intensity of the flashbacks have increased since and he has become more aware of the nature of what happened due to the publicity around Jimmy Savile.”

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