Former Chelsea owner Ken Bates has been criticised for reacting to allegations of racial abuse by saying “the sniff of money is in the air”.
The 86-year-old owned Chelsea from 1982 until June 2003, a period in which it is claimed by former youth team players that they were racially abused by two coaches. Chelsea are investigating the allegations.
Bates was asked by the Proper Sport Daily podcast about the abuse allegations concerning Graham Rix and Gwyn Williams. Both men vehemently deny all the allegations.
In an interview broadcast on May 10 and still available on iTunes, Bates spoke publicly on the issue for the first time, saying “the sniff of money is in the air”.
Bates also described the episode as (a) “trial by smear. It’s not good enough”, in an apparent criticism of the victims of the alleged abuse.
Bates pondered why it had taken time for the allegations to be raised and why the players wished to remain anonymous. He called for those making the claims to reveal their identities.
Dino Nocivelli, a solicitor specialising in actions for child abuse survivors, is representing a number of complainants from the 1990s and described Bates’ comments as “truly shameful”.
Nocivelli said: “My clients take particular offence to Bates’ comments criticising them for failing to disclose their identities and for these ‘ancient coming outs’.
“The only things that my clients wanted to do as children was to play football and to achieve their dream of becoming professional footballers.
“Instead, they suffered an alleged daily nightmare of abuse at Chelsea Football Club in the 1990s.
“These children are now men and although it may feel ‘ancient’ to Bates, the pain and suffering that these men feel is real and continues to the current day.
“My clients want the truth to finally be exposed. Justice is long overdue.”
Bates opened his answer speaking in general times of the climate at the time, and pointed to showing solidarity with Paul Canoville as bananas were thrown at Chelsea’s first black player.
The former Leeds owner also mentioned that while he was at Chelsea the club appointed a black manager in Dutchman Ruud Gullit.
Bates said: “Going back to those days, the whole of football was racist. And the worst of all, of course, I’m afraid were the so-called fans at Chelsea.
“The National Front had an unofficial headquarters there. They used to meet in the pub across from the main gate (at Stamford Bridge).”
Bates expressed little sympathy for the claimants.
Bates said: “What bothers me a bit – and obviously I’m keeping an open mind about it – (is) I’m a bit curious where all these ancient coming outs, so many years later…
“What did they do about it at the time? If I’d have been racially abused as a kid I’d have told my dad, and expected him to support me.
“Or of course I could’ve left the club and joined another one. It’s all very well to say ‘oh well I didn’t want to say anything or do anything because it might harm my career’.
“But if you’ve got the ability, plenty of other clubs were looking at snapping up young black kids.
“So the sniff of money is in the air.
“I think it’s time that people should take a tough line and say ‘OK, name the people, name the times, what was actually said? What was your response?’
“This is trial by smear. It’s not good enough.”
Chelsea are investigating the claims of racial abuse. In January, the club approached Barnardo’s, the children’s charity, to commission an independent review into historic allegations of racism.
Chelsea said in a statement: “We take allegations of this nature extremely seriously and they will be fully investigated.
“We are absolutely determined to do the right thing, to assist the authorities and any investigations they may carry out, and to fully support those affected, which would include counselling for any former player that may need it.”
Renu Daly, of Hudgell Solicitors, is representing a number of former Chelsea youth players who say they were racially abused by coaches at the club between 1979 and 1993.
On Bates’ comments, she said: “To make comments such as ‘the sniff of money being in the air’ with regards to these claims, before knowing the full detail of each and every one, is quite alarming and disappointing.
“Comments questioning why these people, who were as young as 13, did not speak out at the time, suggests a complete lack of understanding of how people who are bullied, intimidated and abused are made to feel, and a total lack of understanding of these cases.
“Mr Bates is quoted as asking why people have not been identified and called for what has actually been alleged to be made clear. All of that information is being set out in legal claims.
“Most of all, to question the integrity of these men, who he admits he does not know who they are, and has not heard their exact allegations, we would consider to be premature.”