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Football abuse hotline takes 2,500 calls referencing more than 300 clubs

22 Apr 1997: Paul Stewart (right) of Sunderland shoulder to shoulder with Jason Dodd of Southampton during the Premier League match at Roker Park in Sunderland, England. Southampton won 1-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Mark Thompson /Allsport
Paul Stewart (left), pictured playing for Sunderland, has described the hotline figures as 'frightening.'

A confidential hotline for victims of sexual abuse in football has received more than 2,500 calls since being set up last year.

The majority of the cases are historical and are being investigated by police as part of the Operation Hydrant inquiry.

Operation Hydrant was set up after a number of former players revealed last year that they had been victims of abuse.

Children's charity the NSPCC set up the hotline, funded by the FA, to encourage more people to come forward.

NSPCC figures show that 285 suspects have been identified by police so far, with 331 clubs, from Premier League to amateur level, referenced in reports.

An independent review is also being conducted by Clive Sheldon QC.

Former Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Sunderland midfielder Paul Stewart, one of the highest-profile ex-footballers to speak out about being a victim of sexual abuse while a youth player, said: "These figures from the hotline are frightening and just demonstrate the extent of the problem and the amount of work that still needs to be done.

"We are moving in the right direction, but my fear is that many young players are still not safe within the game because most clubs outside the top two divisions simply don't have the means to ensure proper procedures are in place."

Stewart has spent the past year working closely with the NSPCC and the FA to help improve safeguarding standards for young players.

In partnership with other football abuse survivors, he has launched SAVE, a charity helping victims within the game.

The organisation, backed by the FA and the Professional Footballers' Association, it has been holding talks with the Premier League over a one percent levy on all top-level television football income to help pay for better safeguarding at lower-league and amateur clubs.

Stewart, who won three England caps, said: "When it comes to protecting young players from sexual abuse, most clubs just do the bare minimum because they don't have the funding. Some are barely able to do even this.

"My fear is that football is still a fertile environment for sexual predators. The Premier League is the richest in the world, and we would like to see some of their money diverted to help the lower levels of the game to ensure players don't suffer like I and many others did."

Vivek Chaudhary covers FIFA and the financial side of the game for ESPN FC. Twitter: @viveksport

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