The deafening roar of thousands of fans, the shudder of anticipation from his head to his studs, grass stained knees and bruised shins. All of this was a weekly routine for Paul Stewart. From kicking a ball around the park in Manchester to scoring the first goal that lead Tottenham Hotspurs to winning the FA Cup in 1991, Paul had the life that many would idolise.
Buried behind the memories of scoring goals, marrying his wife and having his children, Paul hid a shockingly dreadful secret that was affecting him in ways he wouldn’t understand until later in life.
At the age of 11, Paul’s life changed for good when his youth team’s coach Frank Roper took advantage of him. For four years after, Roper would physically, sexually and psychologically abuse Paul at every opportunity he could, snatching away his innocence and opening up a dark avenue to depression, substance misuse and haunting memories.
For 42 years, Paul kept his secret hidden out of fear of backlash, guilt and media manipulation. Then, in November 2016 Paul woke up to the news that former player Andy Woodward had waved his right to anonymity to expose the abuse that he has also suffered at the hands of his youth coach, and Paul knew it was time to do the same.
With the drive and determination to expose this heinous act that not only he, but other children had suffered, Paul told his family who stood by him from the second the words left his mouth. What followed after was a whirlwind of national press and media outlets grappling at the chance to be able to tell Paul’s story and to expose the hideous monsters that put so many young aspiring footballers through hell.
Fast forward three years and Paul has now successfully co-founded SAVE (Safeguarding and Victim Engagement) an organisation that supports children within the football arena. Still residing in the Fylde Coast area, his passion and dedication now lies in being about to advocate on others’ behalves and bringing light to the lasting effects thatsuchtraumas can have on a person’s mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
I met Paul at a Grassroots Football Round Table discussion and was instantly drawn to him due to his conviction and passion in everythinghe spoke about. Paul is keen to be able to destigmatise mental health and to create an open and welcoming community for people to be able to speak about their experiences and feel safe.
Upon speaking to him, I realised that his values and message (align) with everything we embody here at Empowerment. I invited Paul to come for a chat at the Base, a chance for him to see what we are about as well as for us to learn more about his story.
Listening to him speak, I realised that this man is one of the bravest, honest and down to earth people I have had the pleasure of meeting. He puts all of his efforts into trying to positively change services and community groups to better develop the support and safeguarding.
Paul was impressed by the services that Empowerment offer, inspired by the staff and volunteers that we have and supportive of our message. After our meeting Paul was itching to get involved, so much so that we have already booked him for two events!
Paul is an avid support of what we do and would love to offer his services to represent Empowerment for World Men’s Day, Time to Talk and much more. We are proud to have Paul join our cause and are excited at what future projects we will create.
Don’t be startled if you start hearing more talk about football within the office, we are adding a legend to our supporters after all!