Former youth football coach convicted on 45 counts of sexual abuse

Bob Higgins was found to have sexually touched and groped victims, most of them trainees at Southampton FC and Peterborough United, between 1971 and 1996 (AFP Photo/ADRIAN DENNIS)

London (AFP) - A former youth football coach at Premier League side Southampton, Bob Higgins, was found guilty of 45 counts of indecent assault on young boys on Thursday.

Police described Higgins as a "kingmaker" who used his position of power over the future careers of his young players to abuse them during a 25-year period.

Higgins, 66, sexually touched and groped victims, most of them trainees at Southampton FC and Peterborough United, between 1971 and 1996.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Brown, of Hampshire Police, said that Higgins managed to escape coming under suspicion for many years through the strength of his reputation in the football world.

Brown said: "We have heard from a number of victims over the last few weeks during the court process, they all describe Bob Higgins as an incredibly talented football coach who they absolutely respected for his ability to coach them in relation to their football skills.

"They also describe him as the kingmaker, someone who held their very future in his hands and he used that position to exploit the vulnerabilities that some of these individuals had to satisfy his own sexual needs."

A police investigation into Higgins was launched following the referrals from a NSPCC phone line set up in response to revelations in 2016 of historic sexual abuse of young footballers at clubs across Britain.

Higgins had previously been found guilty of indecent assault on Greg Llewellyn during his time as a junior player at Southampton in a sperate trial last year.

One of Southampton's greatest ever players and former England forward Matthew Le Tissier said in 2016 he had been subject to a "really disgusting" naked massage from Higgins.

And Llewellyn believes too much power was handed to Higgins within the club.

"Whilst it was a very different time in football, the fact that Higgins had total carte blanche control over everything that happened with the entire under 16 and downward structure of the club allowed him to do the things he did and that simply wouldn't happen today," Llewellyn told the Press Association.

"I can't hold the club responsible but you have to point the finger and there was some negligence there but there was only one perpetrator."