Ex-Chelsea coach given secret life ban by FA after racism and bullying scandal

The Football Association has secretly issued a lifetime ban to a former Chelsea coach in the bullying and racism scandal that led to the club paying out-of-court settlements to a number of former youth-team players.

Gwyn Williams, who held a number of prominent roles at Stamford Bridge for 27 years, was given the biggest punishment available to English football’s governing body after a safeguarding investigation ruled he posed “a risk of harm to children within affiliated football”. 

Until now, however, the ban, issued in 2019, has never been made public because the FA takes the unusual stance of not announcing punishments for safeguarding matters — even if it means keeping information from whistleblowers and victims.

In Williams’ case, the people who exposed him were not informed of the decision, even though it involves a high-profile case relating to a Premier League club, a senior figure in the football industry and considerable public interest. As such, many of the victims of Williams’ racist tendencies have never known he was removed from the sport, in the FA’s ruling, “to protect children”. 

Williams, 76, was widely seen to have retired after a long career in which he held huge influence at Stamford Bridge and worked with the first team for managers such as Claudio Ranieri and Jose Mourinho. Williams was a close ally to former chairman Ken Bates and widely credited for discovering the young John Terry, a future Chelsea and England captain.

In reality, Williams is banned from football, in every respect bar playing, after subjecting boys as young as 12 to what an inquiry by children’s charity Barnardo’s described as a “daily tirade of racial abuse”.

The FA’s safeguarding and risk assessment reports, which have been seen by The Athletic, also reveal that Graham Rix, formerly Chelsea’s youth-team coach, was suspended from March 2017 to March 2019 while the FA investigated his part in the scandal.

Although this was never announced by the FA, the documents show Rix is serving a lifetime ban from under-18 girls’ football because of his 1999 conviction, aged 41, for two offences of underage sex with a girl of 15. He served half of a 12-month prison sentence before being released and immediately going back to his old job at Chelsea.

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Williams, left, and Graham Rix at the 2000 FA Cup final between Chelsea and Aston Villa (Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images).

Now 66, Rix is the manager of Fareham Town of the Wessex Football League and was previously at AFC Portchester, another part-time Hampshire team. Rix, who won 17 England caps during his playing career with Arsenal, had to undertake a series of educational sessions as part of the FA’s decision to lift his interim suspension.

A safeguarding panel decision in 2019 concluded that Rix “may pose a risk of harm” to children in terms of emotional abuse. However, the FA ruled it did not have enough evidence to substantiate the allegations of racism that were presented to the governing body and later formed part of a High Court action against Chelsea.

Again, the FA kept its findings quiet. “Publication of details can have serious consequences,” the organisation explains in a media guide, addressing its policy on reporting safeguarding suspensions. “This includes re-traumatising victims and/or causing them to re-live harmful abusive experiences. In addition, vigilantism can have harmful effects on innocent people connected to those involved in safeguarding cases.”

The FA’s safeguarding team interviewed 15 witnesses as part of its investigation into Williams, including former colleagues, a number of the players who were abused, and other witnesses from the 1980s and 1990s. The majority confirmed they had heard the Welshman being racist, aggressive and bullying on numerous occasions.

“The language he used towards the black players sometimes was atrocious, shocking,” one well-known former player told the investigation. “He would use all sorts of language. You name it, he said it. He’d use the N-word, black b******. I think he’d said pretty much everything at some point.”

“He would never say it on matchdays where Joe Public was around,” said another player, granted anonymity in the High Court as one of the men, now in their forties and fifties, who successfully sued Chelsea in 2022. “I used to get it systematically — near enough day in, day out, being called a lazy black b******. A little n*****. You name it, I received it.”



The shame of Graham Rix, secretly suspended from football over ‘racist bullying’

In coming to its judgment, the FA considered that Williams had been the subject of two complaints to the Metropolitan Police, including an allegation of sexual assault against one Chelsea youth-team player.

One police investigation lasted seven months and the other three months, without either leading to charges. In both cases, evidence was passed to the FA that Williams had denied any wrongdoing but otherwise said “no comment” throughout his police interviews. The FA decided he did not pose a sexual risk to children.

A 51-page report written by Stefania Sacco, the FA’s safeguarding investigations manager, makes it clear that the former PE teacher tried everything he could, it seems, to avoid answering the FA’s questions.

According to Sacco, the FA emailed his solicitor, Eddie Johns, on eight occasions from February 5 to March 14, 2019, proposing various dates for an interview and copying in Williams every time.

Williams and Johns, she explains, were impossible to pin down, neither accepting nor turning down the dates or even indicating whether Williams was interested in giving his version of events. When a final date was offered and it was made clear it would be the FA’s last attempt to speak to him, there was no reply.

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Williams with Gianfranco Zola, left, and Dennis Wise after the Cup Winners’ Cup tie against Real Mallorca in 1999 (Tony Marshall/EMPICS via Getty Images)

“If Mr Williams had attended an interview, the FA would have had the opportunity to assess whether Mr Williams has any insight about the harm he has caused some players and his understanding about safeguarding,” Sacco writes. “Without this, the FA is able to rely only on the evidence that has been made available.”

Ted Dale, formerly Chelsea’s youth-team coach and assistant academy director, did agree to be interviewed and was asked on a number of occasions whether he had heard Williams being racist.

Dale joined Chelsea in 1980, a year after Williams, and spent 22 years working alongside a man who was described by one former youth-team player from that time as running “a mini apartheid state”.

“I witnessed some comments that I felt, ‘That’s a bit close, that’s a bit near the mark’,” Dale told the investigation. “But never any comments that were racially motivated.”

Dale moved to the FA in 2013 as a senior national coach educator and that could be awkward for the governing body bearing in mind his testimony was openly questioned by the safeguarding team.

“The FA is of the view that Mr Dale was being very careful in what he would state during the interview,” Sacco writes. “This might have been because he was being asked to remember facts that had happened 20 to 25 years previously and also it could be perceived that he did not want to get Mr Williams into trouble.”

The FA’s report concluded that Williams “misused the power entrusted in him, causing emotional harm to some of the young players who felt unable to stop his behaviour”.

It was, according to the FA, a culture whereby Williams used racist terms so routinely that it had become, to many, the norm. “Some people stopped questioning its appropriateness and whether anyone was being offended by it, thus continuing to perpetuate the racial abuse by leaving it unchallenged.”

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Ken Bates was a long-term ally of Williams (Ian Kington/AFP via Getty Images)

After leaving Chelsea in 2006, Williams had seven years as technical director at Leeds United, where he was reunited with Bates. Williams was sacked by Leeds for gross misconduct after emailing pornographic images to colleagues, including a female member of staff. He went on to have three years as a scout for Hull City.

Johns, who represents Rix and Williams, emailed the FA at one point to argue that any suspension for Williams was “disproportionate and wrong”. Johns, a solicitor for the London legal firm Lawrence Stephens, argued there had been “a gap of many years where Mr Williams worked in football without complaint”.

However, the FA’s safeguarding review panel concluded that Williams had been guilty of “vile abuse” after being placed in a position of trust and that “the only practicable solution is a permanent suspension”.

The three-person panel, chaired by Christopher Quinlan KC, met on May 16, 2019, to consider the risk assessment report.

“The purpose of the order is to protect children,” it concluded. “It is not to punish Gwyn Williams. They (children) are at risk when he is coaching or in some other authoritative role.”

The Athletic contacted Johns to ask if Rix or Williams would comment. He did not reply.

(Top photo: Neal Simpson/EMPICS via Getty Images)

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