London, United Kingdom – Around 350 people have come forward to say they were sexually abused as children by youth football coaches in Britain, the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said on Thursday.

The scale of the abuse began to emerge last week after a string of ex-footballers, including England internationals, told of the ordeals inflicted upon them by coaches.

"We are working closely with the Football Association to ensure that the response to this significant and growing number of victims, at all levels of football, is co-ordinated effectively," said Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the NPCC's lead for child protection.

The NPCC said a "significant" amount of calls had been made to police after the former players came forward to speak out about the abuse they suffered as children.

The BBC said the NPCC's figures were based on existing investigations as well as a new helpline set up by British charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).

The NSPCC said the helpline had received 860 calls in its first week, enabling it to refer 60 cases to police or social services within three days of the hotline launching.

That was more than triple the number of referrals made in the first three days of the helpline set up for victims of Jimmy Savile, a serial paedophile and late BBC television presenter.

The hotline is supported by England's Football Association and backed by England captain Wayne Rooney, who is an NSPCC ambassador.

Bailey encouraged anyone with information about child abuse in football to come forward.

"We continue to encourage those who have been the victim of child sexual abuse to report it, regardless of how long ago the abuse may have taken place," he said.

Fifteen police forces across Britain are investigating cases that have made daily headlines in the country over the past two weeks.

FA chief executive Martin Glenn said on Thursday he does not believe child abuse within British football has been covered up.

"It will help uncover some issues that can't happen again, but do I think there has been a cover-up? I doubt it," said Glenn, whose organisation has established an internal review of the allegations.

The scale of the abuse began to emerge after ex-footballers Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Paul Stewart revealed last week the abuse they suffered at the hands of youth football coaches.

Convicted child molester Barry Bennell has been accused by several footballers of abusing them when he worked for Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City and Stoke City across three decades beginning in the 1970s.

He is the target of five separate police investigations and on Tuesday was charged with eight counts of child abuse, prosecutors said.

Former Newcastle United player David Eatock is the latest player to speak out about his suffering.

Now 40, he said he had been a victim of former youth coach George Ormond, who was sentenced to six years in jail in 2002 for offences committed over almost 25 years.

"One of the more difficult parts for me is that I wasn't as young as some of the others," Eatock told the Guardian newspaper.

"I was 18 when I got to know George Ormond. I can still remember the look on his face, how terrifying it was, and how his eyes were possessed."

He added: "I'm just glad Andy Woodward, by speaking out, has given me the strength to do this because I never would have otherwise. It has been like a knot in my brain and I'm now trying to pick apart that knot."

Premier League leaders Chelsea have opened an investigation after newspaper claims they bought the silence of a former player who said he was abused by a scout at the club during the 1970s.

Glenn said the FA would come down hard on any club found to have hushed up reports of abuse.

"FA chairman Greg Clarke is committed to a full review, shining a torch on what has happened in the past in football," he told a press conference at Wembley to unveil new England manager Gareth Southgate.

"If there has been evidence of hushing up, when it's our turn to apply the rules we absolutely will, regardless of the size of club."

AFP