Crewe Alexandra football club will hold an independent review into the way the team dealt with child sex abuse allegations.
The announcement comes after four former players made claims of sexual abuse against former Crewe youth team coach Barry Bennell.
A former club director has also claimed that Crewe held board-level talks about an allegation of sexual abuse against Bennell in the late 1980s but kept him on.
Hamilton Smith, who was on the board of the Sky Bet League Two club from 1986 to early 1990, said he convened a meeting at the home of former chairman Norman Rowlinson after he was confronted with an allegation that Bennell had abused a junior footballer.
Smith claims Rowlinson wanted to get Bennell out of the club before an agreement was reached that Bennell should stay in his post but not be left alone with boys and that boys should not be allowed to go on overnight stays at Bennell’s house.
It is claimed by Smith that Dario Gradi, who was then the club’s manager and is now director of football, attended a follow-up meeting held in Gradi’s office.
Bennell worked with Crewe, Manchester City, Stoke and several junior clubs in the north-west of England prior to his conviction for raping a British boy at a football camp in Florida in 1994.
After the conviction in the US, Bennell was found guilty at Chester Crown Court in 1998 of 23 offences against six boys, aged between nine and 15, and was sentenced to nine years in jail.
The court heard that one of the assaults took place in Gradi’s house, though the court was also told there was no suggestion Gradi knew anything about it. Bennell was given a further sentence in 2015 when he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing another boy at a camp in Macclesfield in 1980.
A number of former footballers – including Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and David White – have come forward to report they were sexually abused by Bennell during their time in junior football, while ex-Tottenham and Liverpool midfielder Paul Stewart says he was abused by a different coach.
Smith said: “I’m incredibly angry that the club continue to refute that they knew anything about suspicions of Bennell’s activities. This was discussed at the club’s top level and, as much as I tried to resolve this, regrettably I couldn’t. I dread to think how many victims there are, and my heart goes out to them.”
Gradi released a statement on Thursday in which he expressed sympathy for Bennell’s victims and said he knew nothing of the coach’s crimes until the US conviction in 1994. Club chairman John Bowler said on Tuesday that the club was conducting an inquiry into what went on.
A senior police officer has warned that the sex abuse scandal in football could spread to other sports.
A “significant” number of other alleged victims of abuse are likely to come forward and further sporting governing bodies may report problems, said Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection.
Four police forces are now investigating allegations of child sex abuse in football. Some of the claims have come from the NSPCC, which this week set up a dedicated hotline – on 0800 023 2642 – for football-related cases with the backing of the FA and Scottish FA.