Former England captain Mick Mills has been accused of ignoring hazing rituals—some of which included sexual assault—in his time as Stoke City boss in the 1980s, according to an article by Daniel Taylor in The Guardian.
The allegations came in court on Tuesday, as former trainee George Blackstock initiated proceedings against the Premier League club.
Per Taylor, Blackstock claims he was left with post-traumatic stress as a result of the treatment he received from some Stoke players. He added that Mills and Tony Lacey, who was the youth development officer at the time, knew what was happening but didn’t do anything about it.
Mills, awarded an MBE after a career that included 43 England caps, was manager of Stoke in the 1980s when teenage apprentices at the club were allegedly subjected to a punishment ritual also known as "the Finger," whereby a goalkeeper's glove was smeared with heat cream and used in a sexual assault.
Blackstock says he didn’t approach authorities at the time because he was afraid it would affect his football career.
According to Taylor, the barrister representing Stoke, Nicholas Fewtrell, said:
These allegations against Mr Mills, a former England captain, are extremely serious in his professional career. To be accused of something like this, though it is not a criminal offence, is very serious for him, 25 years after the event.
There are numerous cases pending against the Potters, but the current hearing relates to a specific incident involving then-first-team goalkeeper Peter Fox, who was reportedly responsible for “the Finger”—also known as “the Glove”—incident.
Fox, who is now 56, has vigorously denied the allegations, calling the claims a “devastating shock.”
Fox made 477 appearances for Stoke and is now involved with Blackburn Rovers. He said in a statement, "It is an allegation without any substance whatsoever, made at least 25 years after the alleged events are supposed to have taken place."
Along with sexual assault, Blackstock has also brought to light other stories of abuse. One particular incident allegedly involved Stoke players pinning Blackstock down and holding a hot teapot to his backside.
Ian Gibbons, a fellow apprentice and an alleged eyewitness to the incident, said it was “awful to witness,” according to Taylor.
Hazing and pranks have been commonplace in sports down the years, but if the allegations are proved to be true, then it would appear a line was crossed at Stoke.
Ex-trainee's barrister saying 'macho culture' existed at all clubs but 'that went far too far at this club' with glove ritual #stoke— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) December 10, 2013
Barrister talks of 'locking the door, a violent struggle and (trainees) held on physio table, shouting, sometimes screaming' #stoke— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) December 10, 2013
If Blackstock’s case is successful, then it will likely be a landmark moment, as it could open the door for other claims.
Tuesday’s hearing was to determine whether a case can be put forward after such a length of time has passed.