John Bowler, chairman of Crewe Alex FC

Crewe Alexandra Chairman John Bowler has stepped down “with immediate effect” following the Sheldon report and BBC documentary into historic sex abuse of young players at the club.

Bowler, who became Crewe chairman in 1987, said in a statement released today that it was always his intention to stand down following the conclusion of the Sheldon Review.

That review was launched more than four years ago after former Crewe players Andy Woodward and Steve Walters were among many to come forward and reveal how former coach Barry Bennell had sexually abused the, while youth players at Gresty Road.

In his statement, Bowler said: “As the only person left with an association to that era, I truly believe it was important for me to see it through to conclusion.

“I am satisfied with the findings of the review that found that the club did not have any knowledge of Barry Bennell’s heinous crimes.

“I will always be deeply appalled and sorry that those young players and their families suffered at the hands of this evil predator.

“I personally and sincerely apologise to them all for their suffering.

“Crewe Alexandra is a community based club with good people. I apologise to all our supporters that the name of the club has been tarnished.

“I have worked on the formation of a new board and know they will do all they can to move the club forward.

“Our Academy remains one of the finest in the country and we have every confidence in our safeguarding policies and procedures.

“There is always room for improvement and as a club will welcome the future recommendations of The Sheldon Review.”

A statement from Crewe Alexandra Board of Directors said: “We would like to thank John for over 40 years of loyal service and dedication to the football club.

“The Board and staff of Crewe Alexandra look forward to continuing its work as a community club and supporting David Artell and his team.

“Crewe Alexandra Football Club would also like to clarify its position following the publication of the Sheldon report.

“The Club apologises unreservedly for the hurt and suffering caused to all victims and survivors of Barry Bennell during his two periods of employment with the club.

“We are truly sorry for any abuse that was experienced because of Bennell’s abhorrent conduct.

“The club vehemently condemns all forms of abuse and reiterates its stance in ensuring lessons are learnt and football is a safe place for all.”

The Offside Trust, the organisation set up by victims of the scandal to campaign for change and support fellow victims, said Bowler should have quit before now.

Their statement read: “We thought it might have been made in 2016. And again in 2018.

“For it not to have happened once the Sheldon report was published rubbed salt into the wounds of survivors.

“It has taken several days of pressure from survivors, journalists and ultimately the club’s own supporters to force this resignation today.

“This was the very least that should have been expected and hopefully it clears the path for a new chapter.

“The Offside Trust looks forward to a positive relationship with Crewe Alex in the future – in the same way as we have enjoyed with many other clubs in the last five years.

“Lessons must be learned. Longevity in an organisation is overrated – whether it’s in the boardroom or the dug-out.

“Closed organisations run by small cliques can be breeding grounds for complacency and far worse. Transparency, honesty and humility should be championed above insularity and tribalism.”

Crewe and Nantwich MP Kieran Mullan said: “I welcome this announcement. I think it can be the start of the club charting a new course and I hope the start of a new relationship with survivors.

“This morning the official supporters group offered to meet with survivors which is another really positive step.

“The club can’t change what happened, nobody can. But it can take up the opportunity to be part of what happens next in a way it’s fans can be proud of and I hope they seize that opportunity.”

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