The harrowing details of a culture of “racist bullying” at Chelsea in the 1990s are laid bare in High Court documents, obtained by The Athletic, that allege young, black players were punched, kicked and subjected to other assaults by their own coaches.
One of the black players, who is suing Chelsea for aggravated damages, says he was punched on a number of occasions by Graham Rix, formerly the club’s youth-team coach, and the victim of repeated assaults from Gwyn Williams, the director of youth development.
Rix, it is alleged, punched a youth-team footballer between the legs during a four-year ordeal that left the teenage victim, now in his forties, with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to court papers. He also struck the same player to the side of the head more than once, including one occasion while the boy was sitting on the ground, and is accused of leaving him with minor burns after pouring a scalding cup of coffee over his head.
In another shocking example of what black players allegedly had to endure in Chelsea’s youth system, Rix is said to have taken part in a training match and, shaping up to take a throw-in, hurled the ball into the boy’s face from almost point-blank range, leaving him on the floor with a bleeding nose.
Rix, a former England international who won 17 caps for his country, has just returned to football as first-team coach for Gosport Borough, of the seventh-tier Southern League Premier Division South, and is understood to deny all the allegations. Williams, whose association with Chelsea lasted 27 years in a range of roles including assistant first-team manager, accepts he used racial language but has submitted evidence to the court to say it was not intended maliciously. He, too, is understood to deny assaulting any player. Both men have declined to comment to The Athletic.
The allegations are set out in official papers submitted to the High Court in advance of a five-week trial, starting on March 7 next year, involving four of the 10 players who have launched civil claims against Chelsea, as the employers of Rix and Williams.
Chelsea, via their insurers’ lawyers, deny vicarious liability, even though they have previously accepted elsewhere there was a racist culture within the club at that time – and, indeed, issued a public apology two years ago.
The case – AMX v Chelsea Football Club Limited – is shaping up to become one of the most high-profile of its kind, featuring a line-up of 62 witnesses and potentially some of the biggest names who have played, or worked, for Chelsea in the relevant era, under the ownership of Ken Bates.
Legal documents also identify David James, the former England goalkeeper, as a key witness because of an incident that allegedly occurred when Liverpool played at Chelsea on December 30, 1995.
The game had finished 2-2, with Ruud Gullit among the Chelsea players and John Barnes and Stan Collymore alongside James in the Liverpool starting XI. James was said to have been talking to Williams within the stadium when one of Chelsea’s teenage black players – granted anonymity in this case and referred to as “the claimant” – walked past.
According to a legal submission written by James Counsell QC, representing the players, Williams was alleged to have “grabbed the claimant by the collar of his tracksuit and accused him of being a ‘fake c**n’ whereas, he said, James was a ‘proper c**n’.” That remark, Counsell adds, “caused the claimant much embarrassment and distress and led to James taking (him) aside, shortly afterwards, to advise him that he would have to ignore Williams’s racist remarks if he wanted to get on, because Williams ‘had a lot of clout’.”
James, whose playing career also included spells at Watford, Aston Villa, West Ham United, Manchester City and Portsmouth while winning 53 senior caps, has been contacted by The Athletic and said: “I have no recollection of the event and can’t add any facts.” James, it is understood, has either refused or declined to help with the case, but may be summoned to court anyway. Several witnesses are reluctant to be involved, according to lawyers on both sides.
The claimant has previously described Chelsea at that time as a “feral environment” in which black players were “treated like a race of fucking dogs”. Another of the players has called it a “mini-apartheid state” and an independent inquiry, conducted by the Barnardo’s children’s charity, concluded in 2019 that “the ongoing and repeated use of racially abusive language … appears to have created an atmosphere in which abuse was normalised”. Chelsea said they fully accept the findings that Williams had targeted boys as young as 12 with a “daily tirade of racial abuse”.
Williams and Rix both deny any wrongdoing and after a seven-month police investigation into the allegations the police found insufficient evidence to justify taking any further action.
However, separate evidence has been presented to the High Court by at least two players who did not take part in that Barnardo’s inquiry – and their testimony is perhaps the most shocking yet.
One incident occurred at a youth-team match in Spain when Rix allegedly shouted at one of the claimants, in the presence of the other players and coaching staff, that if his “heart was as big as his cock, he would be a great player”.
When this abuse was met by laughter from others, Rix went on to say that the claimant “should have been the only person in the whole stadium to be able to endure the 40-degree heat, as blacks were always winning the long-distance Olympic events in the heat, if they weren’t spear-chucking”.
On another occasion, the teenage apprentice was cleaning one of the professional players’ boots when Rix allegedly asked him whether he had “fucked any of our white birds” at the weekend. “Rix told him that if it was his daughter he would ‘lynch (his) black arse’,” Counsell writes. “The claimant, tired of the constant harassment, countered by joking that that may happen one day, at which (point) Rix lost his temper and poured a scalding cup of coffee over the claimant’s head, causing him to suffer minor burn injuries.”
The families of the youth-team players were invited to Stamford Bridge one day to meet the club’s then-managing director, Colin Hutchinson, and other members of staff, including Rix and Williams. Rix was said to have made a number of sexually suggestive remarks to the player’s sister, who was in her mid-twenties, and invited her for a drink.
When the player complained about it the following day, Rix allegedly punched him in the groin, leaving him in agony, and told him, “I will do whatever I want and I fancy a bit of black — I guarantee that her black ass will like it.”
When the teenager asked Rix during a training session why he was always being targeted for criticism, the coach was said to have responded by telling him he was “fucking weak” and allegedly punched him to the head.
The Barnardo’s inquiry concluded that Rix, now 63, could be “aggressive and bullying” but, on the evidence presented to the report, not racially abusive.
Now in his seventies, Williams held a series of roles at Stamford Bridge during an era when Glenn Hoddle, Gullit and Gianluca Vialli were re-establishing Chelsea as one of the more glamorous clubs in English football. There is no suggestion they would have known about any of this behaviour.
“Whilst attending (youth-team) training sessions,” Counsell writes, “Williams would single him (the claimant) out, and other young black players, by calling them such names as ‘c**n’, ‘n*****’, ‘darkie’, ‘w**’, ‘monkey’, ‘black bastard’, ‘jigaboo’, ‘mango muncher’, ‘midnight’ or ‘spear chucker’ in the presence and hearing of the other players, belittling and humiliating them in the eyes of their team-mates and other members of the coaching staff”.
To put it into context, the judge, Justice Stacey, decided at a pre-trial hearing in May that she would prefer to spell out some of the offending words, letter by letter, because she found it easier than repeating them verbatim.
The hearing was told Williams had admitted making a number of racial references but was using “a so-called ‘different-times’ defence”. In other words, he accepted using a lot of the language but appeared to think it was acceptable within a football environment of that era.
Williams, according to Counsell, would “frequently walk up to the claimant (and other young players) and flick his scrotum and penis with his finger over his shorts or over a towel, if in the changing rooms. He would regularly make reference to the size of the claimant’s penis in derogatory terms, implying that all black men have large penises.”
Williams, credited with discovering John Terry, had a spell as Chelsea’s assistant manager during Claudio Ranieri’s 2000-04 reign. He was also involved in the scouting department during Jose Mourinho’s first spell as manager from 2004-07 and was so close to chairman Bates that he later followed him to Leeds United. Williams lost his job at Leeds in ignominious circumstances, fired for gross misconduct in 2013 after emailing a pornographic image to a female receptionist.
Rix, meanwhile, has been trying to rebuild his reputation after being sentenced to a year in prison, in 1999, for admitting two charges of unlawful sex with a girl of 15. He returned to his job at Chelsea immediately after being freed and went on to manage Portsmouth, Oxford United and Scottish club Hearts.
A psychiatric report, included in the High Court documents, talks of the claimant in the racism case experiencing “very severe distress and feelings of isolation and humiliation, all of which totally undermined his confidence in his footballing ability and as a young person at a critical age; damage from which he has never recovered.”
The former player turned to alcohol in an attempt to blot out the memories but continued to suffer from depression and anxiety in his adult life, experiencing flashbacks and nightmares, particularly related to the abuse from Rix.
On one occasion the player was lying on the ground, trying to get his breath back, along with several team-mates after a running exercise. Rix was said to have approached the players and was singing the words to Billy Ocean’s 1980s hit “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going” before kicking him with force, twice, while he was on the floor. One kick was to the teenager’s thigh, the other to his ribs, leaving him in considerable pain.
If the claimant objected to his treatment, according to Counsell, he was told “Shut up, darkie” or was labelled a “moody c**n” and told to “Fuck off back to Africa”. Williams would tell him he should “either sell drugs or rob old grannies” and had a habit of calling him “Richard Pryor”, after the black American actor-comedian, as well as asking whether he had been on the “wacky backy” (marijuana). Williams, it is alleged, would “regularly and forcefully slap the claimant around the head when he was carrying out such menial tasks as cleaning boots, folding kit and packing boot skips. Every morning, Williams would greet the claimant with the words, ‘Morning, c**n’ or ‘Morning, n*****’.”
Even when the player left Chelsea to pursue his career elsewhere, he tells the story of continuing to suffer because of the psychological damage and finding out that Rix and Williams had been denigrating him to the relevant people.
One example cited in the court papers came at another club, then in the top division of non-League, where the manager was formerly a team-mate of Rix’s at Arsenal.
The player also spoke to a further club but was told by their manager that Williams had been in touch to describe him as “a black boy with a chip on his shoulder”. The manager was said to have explained that Williams had “told him that he (the manager) was ‘the best man to make a n***** like (the claimant) appreciate what he had’.”
Chelsea are fighting the claims through their insurers and have brought in a barrister, Nicholas Fewtrell, who previously represented Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City in compensation cases involving victims of the paedophile football coach Barry Bennell.
Fewtrell has also represented the Catholic Church in several compensation claims, whereas the players have appointed Counsell to explain why they are “taken aback” that Chelsea’s stance is markedly different from the one previously articulated by the club.
Chelsea, according to Counsell, have “entirely reversed from a public position of admission and regret at the time of the Barnardo’s report through to non-admission in the pleas and now, through witness statements, an outright denial.”
Chelsea’s defence is that they had no reason not to employ Rix or Williams, there were no complaints at the time and the nature of the abuse meant it happened away from people working at the top of the club. Chelsea’s legal team will also argue that it was not reasonable to have expected proper safeguarding measures to be in place at football clubs in the 1990s and have previously stated that, over 20 years on, it will be impossible to have a fair trial.
“There is no adequate explanation for this delay on the part of the claimant,” Fewtrell writes in Chelsea’s legal papers.
Chelsea had previously declared they were “absolutely determined to do the right thing” in support of the players, including offering them counselling. The west London club, currently champions of Europe, wanted to “apologise unreservedly for the terrible past experiences of some of our former players”.
“Our clients are therefore disappointed that Chelsea have changed their position in the civil courts,” says Emma Ferguson, a solicitor for Bolt Burdon Kemp, which represents some of the former players. “Rather than seeking to make reparations to our clients for this harm, Chelsea are relying on witness evidence from Williams stating that he ‘would never use these words today’ and there was ‘no malicious intention’.
“Chelsea’s hypocrisy in appearing to support black lives in public, whilst refusing to support black victims of racist abuse in seeking the justice they deserve, simply aggravates our clients’ pain and suffering.”
Source: The Athletic