English football has been rocked by allegations of child sex abuse.

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Police receive more calls over past child sexual abuse

UK football shocked by more cases

London CNN  — 

Wayne Rooney has become the first star player to urge victims of past child abuse in the world of football not to suffer in silence.

The England captain spoke out after a hotline was set up for people who were sexually abused while playing soccer in Britain as children.

It received more than 50 calls in its first few hours Thursday, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

Wayne Rooney has spoken out in support of victims.

“It’s awful that some of my colleagues have suffered this way whilst playing the sport that I and they love,” said Rooney, an ambassador for the NSPCC.

The hotline was launched with the support of England’s Football Association (FA), after former English footballers Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Paul Stewart spoke to British media about being sexually abused as children. Another player, David White, has also come forward.

“Andy has been really brave to come forward and I would encourage anyone who has or is suffering from abuse to call the NSPCC’s new football helpline.”

“It’s important that people know that it’s okay to speak out, there is help available and that they don’t need to suffer in silence,” he added.

Cheshire Police, in northern England, said Friday they had received a “growing number of disclosures” relating to “non-recent child sexual abuse linked to football.”

“These have included allegations made against more than one individual,” police said in a statement.

On Friday, two more players – Chris Unsworth and Jason Dunford – both spoke publicly for the first time about being abused by former Crewe Alexandra coach Barry Bennell.

In a separate development, police in Hampshire, southern England, also confirmed they are investigating “allegations of non-recent child abuse within the football community.”

In another investigation, Northumbria police confirmed to CNN that the department had “received a report in relation to an allegation of historic sexual offenses in Newcastle.”

A statement added: “We are working closely with, and supporting, the victim and inquiries are ongoing.”

Coach jailed for abuse

Former Sheffield United player Woodward was the first to tell his story publicly, explaining how he was abused by Bennell while playing for Crewe Alexandra football club, in northern England in the 1980s and 1990s.

Bennell was jailed in 1998 for nine years after admitting to sexually abusing children, including Woodward.

He has been jailed three times for child abuse – including once in America where he was reportedly described by Florida police as having “almost an insatiable appetite” for young boys.

He was sent to prison most recently in 2015 for two years for a past sexual offense against a 12-year-old boy.

Former England and Manchester City player White and ex-Crewe player Walters have also revealed they were among Bennell’s victims, though it is unclear whether Bennell was convicted of abusing them.

Stewart, who played for Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, said another coach had repeatedly sexually assaulted him and threatened to kill his family if he spoke out.

Woodward’s and Walters’ Twitter accounts have been flooded with support in recent days. “This momentum WILL save people,” Woodward wrote. Walters said he was “totally taken back” by the support he had received since opening up about the abuse he suffered.

More come forward

On Friday, more victims came forward to tell their own stories of torment.

Chris Unsworth, now 44, was a youth team player at Manchester City before moving to Crewe with Bennell.

He told the BBC that he had stayed at Bennell’s house on a number of occasions where the coach would have two or three boys in the bed at once while abusing them.

“We never spoke to each other about it,” Unsworth, who said he was nine when the abuse started, told the BBC. “I was raped between 50 and 100 times.”

“I didn’t know what was going on to be fair – I knew what I wanted to get, and I thought this is what I had to go through. I knew it was wrong but I just went with it,” he said.

Manchester City said it had opened an investigation amid allegations that Bennell had an association with the club in the 1980s.

Jason Dunford has also spoken out, alleging that Bennell attempted to touch him while he was in bed at a holiday camp.

“I told him to get off me,” he told the BBC. “After that, Bennell began to torment me – dropping me from the team, telling me I would play, but on the Sunday dropping me again.”

Neither Unsworth nor Dunford went on to play professionally, citing the abuse they suffered as one of the main reasons.

Authorities react

Meanwhile, English Football Association chairman Greg Clarke says he has written to 30,000 football clubs to help raise awareness on the subject and says his organization will do everything in its power to support any criminal investigation.

Clarke met with Woodward at Wembley on Thursday to discuss the situation and what can be done about it.

According to the FA, 55,000 criminal records checks are carried out across the game each season, to screen out anyone who seeks to work in football who may pose a risk of harm.

Clarke said 8,500 people have been checked and trained as designated safeguarding officers in the professional game and grassroots football.

The FA says 35,000 coaches and referees attend The FA’s safeguarding children awareness course each season.

‘Safe haven’ needed

In a statement appealing for others affected by child abuse in the sport to come forward, the NSPCC said boys were less likely to speak up about sexual abuse.

“Football locker rooms and clubs are traditionally very masculine and male environments. This means it can be difficult for players to talk about issues such as sexuality or abuse.

“But it’s crucial they speak out. Along with the FA, we’re urging players and others involved in football, from those just starting out to Premier League, to [use] our helpline,” the charity said.

Detective Inspector Sarah Hall of Cheshire Police’s public protection unit told the Press Association Wednesday that “we have now been made aware of a number of people who have come forward wishing to speak to the police” with similar claims.

She said no arrests had been made so far.

Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, said it was a “timely warning for everybody in football about our duty of care to these youngsters” and that he wanted the union to be a “safe haven,” the Press Association reported.