Grime and punishment: Dark tales of ritual abuse in boot-rooms could spark a wave of legal claims against clubs

Former Stoke City apprentice claims damages for allegedly being subjected to a ritual known as the “The Glove” and “The Finger”

Even in such a macho sport as football, the punishment ritual inflicted on apprentices who were judged to have failed in their work at one top First Division club in the early 1980s was an extraordinary one. The word or a nod would be given and the victim would be ordered to walk to the shower room beside the naked team captain, holding that individual’s genitals.

Other players from the 1970s and 1980s era will respond with a shudder to the word “blacking” – the pinning down of young apprentices while their testicles were daubed with black boot polish. “It took you three weeks to get it off,” says one former Liverpool player, whose account of those days reveals the damage done to those who failed football’s survival of fittest test. “I remember one player was left with a stutter,” he says. “Others never played football again. It was mental and physical abuse on a daily basis.”

All of that pales in comparison to the testimony given at Preston County Court in the past two weeks by George Blackstock, the former Stoke City apprentice claiming damages for allegedly being subjected to a ritual known as the “The Glove” and “The Finger”, in which goalkeeper Peter Fox allegedly daubed his glove in Raljex and inserted it up the 16-year-old’s backside while he was pinned to the treatment bench. Several witnesses have testified to Blackstock getting “The Teapot” – in which the hot receptacle was held to his backside. Blackstock’s transgressions included serving lukewarm tea and making a line decision against a first-team player in a training game. Stoke and Fox deny the allegations.

Football awaits with trepidation Judge Philip Butler’s decision, due in the New Year, on whether to give Blackstock leave to sue Stoke and Fox for an estimated £5,000 damages. The court heard from Stoke defence barrister Nicholas Fewtrell on Tuesday that other players are “waiting in the wings” for possible legal action and the Independent on Sunday understands that several other ex-Stoke apprentices have consulted no-win, no-fee lawyers about “blacking” incidents.

The Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive, Gordon Taylor, declined to discuss the case ahead of the judge’s ruling, but there is a sense of dismay in the game that 1980s practices might provoke a spate of litigation. The Blackstock claims are grim – the court heard that former players George Berry, Carl Saunders and Steve Parkin allegedly held down the Northern Irishman while Fox applied the glove, though the alleged incident is far removed from the kind of sexual abuse from that period which the Jimmy Savile case brought to light, and which also led to the former Celtic Boys Club manager, Jim Torbett, being jailed for 30 months in 1998. Torbett was convicted of shameless indecency for abusing boys, including the future Scotland international Alan Brazil, between 1968 and 1974.

At Stoke, Berry, Saunders, Parkin all deny the allegations and Judge Butler’s response has so far revealed reservations about the quality of some of the evidence.

One of the witnesses to Blackstock receiving “The Glove”, former apprentice and now serving Staffordshire Police officer Justin Edwards, was heavily censured in court by the judge for testifying in one statement that he himself had been abused, whilst not mentioning this in another statement during the force’s 2008 investigation into the allegations. Edwards was asked to explain why he did not inform his force of the abuse when he became a serving officer, if he knew of it. Edwards felt at the time that it wasn’t something worthy of a criminal investigation.

The decision of Blackstock to go to The Sun with his story, after it allegedly became clear that Stoke were unwilling to pay compensation, has led to a financial motive being discussed at length in court. “They go to Stoke with the allegations, who deny it. So they go to The Sun,” Fox’s barrister John McNeill said this week. Judge Butler seemed to acknowledge that the case had significance beyond football, in sports where punishments come with the territory.

“If you have got a university rugby team on their way home from a match, you may say they are all consenting adults,” he said. “The victim may go along with the idea that if they have ‘failed’ with a pass, he might have to take [punishment].”

Even in recent years, the apprentice footballer’s environment has remained forbidding. A player at one leading Premier League club had his nose broken when a towel was flicked at him because he refused to cooperate with the initiation ceremony of standing on a chair to sing.

But the brutality of the punishment culture began tapering off in the mid-1990s. “It began to change with the Academy systems, the arrival of foreign players and maybe the recognition that these were not much more than children. It changed with the change in attitudes,” said one Academy coach.

“It’s a lot different,” a 20-year-old Liverpool player told the Independent on Sunday. “Standing up and singing in front of Jamie Carragher, which I had to do at my first Christmas party, was a challenge. But it was just sharp banter and that’s good for those of us coming in.”

But the Stoke case does raise the question of how many young talents fell by the wayside because they could not run this gauntlet of abuse. “It helped if you were tough in the first place,” said one witness to events at the time. “You couldn’t be shy or you’d be crucified.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks