Belfast man loses 'gloving' claim against Stoke City FC and ex-goalkeeper Peter Fox
A former top-flight goalkeeper has been cleared of physically assaulting a trainee during the 1980s after it was claimed the teenager had been given a ritual known as "the gloving", a civil court has ruled.
Ex-trainee footballer George Blackstock from Belfast now aged 45, had claimed he was twice given the punishment as a teenager by goalkeeper Peter Fox, now 58, after gaining a place at Stoke City Football Club at the age of 16.
Warehouse supervisor Mr Blackstock had tried suing his former club Stoke and their then goalkeeper Mr Fox in a landmark civil case for loss of earnings of £170,000 on the basis that he would have played at least at Conference level for five years after leaving the club, but for the alleged assaults
But his claim at Preston County Court was unsuccessful and he must now fork out £200,000.
Judge Phillip Butler sitting in the High Court case dismissed Mr Blackstock's claims and ordered him to pay £100,000 in costs to each of the defendants.
Preston County Court had heard that the two alleged assaults had occurred between 1986 and 1988 while Mr Blackstock was held down by up to three other first team players.
During the 13 day trial - Mr Blackstock who had been an apprentice midfielder, said he had been held down on a physio table as Mr Fox carried out the gloving ritual which he claimed involved him smearing the glove with deep heat.
He said he was given the punishment on two occasions - once for delivering the first team players cold tea and another time for calling a bad decision on the pitch.
He claimed the alleged assaults led to a deterioration in his form on the football pitch and caused him post-traumatic stress and to turn to drink.
Mr Blackstock spent just over two years at the club before returning home to Belfast after former England captain and Stoke manager Mick Mills released him because at 5ft 4ins he was too small.
But Mr Fox, who once played for Linfield, had always strenuously denied the claims telling the trial: "The gloving didn't go on."
The handing down of a reserved judgment followed a 13 day trial in the high court held at Preston County Court in July and September 2015.
Judge Butler told the hearing: "This is a case in which the complainant's claim against both defendants has been dismissed with costs."
He must pay the costs by November 13 2015.
No parties were present in court.
Judge Butler said that Mr Blackstock had failed to discharge the burden of proof.
"I do not find the claimant's allegations are consciously dishonest or that nothing untoward ever occurred between players and apprentices at the club all those years ago, but I am unable to find as a fact that the specific events alleged by and allegedly involving the claimant did occur.
"It follows inevitably that his claim against the club, which only fell to be considered if he succeeded in his claim against the second defendant, also fails and should be dismissed."
He added: "This decision is not the equivalent of a positive finding that no such assaults took place. I have the uncomfortable feeling that neither the claimant nor the second defendant have given a fully accurate account and that both they and others have been economical with the truth. I confess to a lurking suspicion that some form of prank may lie at the root of this case.
"A prank that may have involved a glove but not the extra features of the hot rubbing gel or digital penetration. A prank that caused no lasting harm and would and could not justify the extensive claim made in this case."
A statement released by Stoke City Football Club following the ruling said: "The club gives absolute reassurance that it is fully committed to the safety and protection of individuals at the club and has robust safeguarding policies in place which are frequently reviewed and updated."