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Victims in British sex-abuse scandal unite, call for justice

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) The man whose harrowing testimony of being sexually abused by a youth coach sparked an ongoing crisis in English soccer wants to take the issue to a global level.

“I can’t even begin to give you the numbers of people contacting me directly, not just footballers and ex-footballers but members of the public,” Andy Woodward told The Associated Press on Monday. “It’s everywhere.”

If he’s not too weary by the sheer scale of the scandal he helped to uncover, Woodward will fly to New York on Wednesday to speak to an American broadcaster about his 30-year journey from abused youth player to an inspiration to millions.

“I personally know that in America, there are certain things which have potentially happened there,” Woodward said. “It’s just about reaching out to everyone.”

Woodward was the first of a growing list of former soccer players to go public over the past three weeks about the ordeals they went through as youngsters.

The effect has been bigger than they could ever have imagined.

About 450 people have reported incidents of child sexual abuse at soccer clubs to 18 British police forces. A hotline set up by a children’s charity in response to sex abuse claims has taken about 1,000 calls in little more than a week. At least 55 clubs, professional and amateur, have been implicated in the story.

On Saturday, Chelsea – the current leader of the English Premier League and one of the biggest clubs in the country – apologized to a former player who was sexually abused while a member of the club’s youth team and who was paid 50,000 pounds ($77,500) to keep the matter out of the public domain.

The English Football Association, meanwhile, has started an internal review to re-examine its response to convictions of soccer coaches in the 1990s.

All this because Woodward was brave enough, after decades of anguish and soul-searching, to break his silence.

“I have no words for the emotion about how I feel about it all,” Woodward told the AP. “In my stomach, I knew there was a lot more (victims) out there.”

The scandal is sure to get bigger.

On Monday, Woodward and other victims launched an independent trust to support players – and their families – who have suffered from child abuse. The aim of the “Offside Trust” is to create a support network for victims, and establish a united front in the search for justice.

“We can’t let that happen again,” Woodward said at an emotionally charged news conference in Manchester. “We need to let players from this beautiful game we’ve got to be able to be free from (our) horrible experience and go on to be those footballers they are aspiring to be.”

Comments from a lawyer who sat alongside Woodward at the news conference, and who is helping to run the trust, sparked renewed concern about the scope of the scandal.

Ed Smethurst, managing director of law firm Prosperity Law LLP, said he was aware of other cases where soccer clubs have used confidentiality clauses in settlements with victims of sexual abuse. Smethurst also said he knows of people still involved in coaching who victims have spoken about and “certainly need further investigation.”

Woodward and other victims have become like a family. Clearly tense before the news conference, he and fellow victim Steve Walters embraced and nervously sipped water.

Walters – the second person to go public about sexual abuse he suffered as a young player – broke down at one stage, and didn’t want to answer certain questions.

“I’ve had over 50 different players get in touch with me (about abuse they suffered),” Walters told the AP afterward. “Some have been professionals, some are still in the game now, a lot of them have fallen by the wayside.

“There are sad stories that people have turned to drink, had broken relationships, one or two have had mental breakdowns. People don’t realize the mental torture it provides for you.”

Walters said a Belgian player contacted him to speak about his experience of being abused as a youngster, and that he has also spoken to people from Canada, the United States and Australia.

There are two things Walters and the others want to come out of all this.

“We want justice,” Walters said. “And we want our future children, especially those involved in sports, to be protected so something like this can never ever happen to a child again.”

VIDEO: Goalkeeper sends Memphis Depay flying with skillful touch

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Former Manchester United attacker Memphis Depay has one of the brightest spots for Lyon this season that sees them battling with Monaco and Marseille for 2nd place behind a dominant PSG. He has scored 15 goals and assisted 11 others this Ligue 1 campaign, adding to his tally just four minutes into Friday’s 5-2 win over Dijon, the sixth win in a row for the club that pulled them within a point of Monaco.

However, there was a moment to forget for Depay in the victory as well.

With the score still at 1-1 in the 19th minute, Depay was sent high up the pitch to press Dijon goalkeeper Baptiste Reynet, owner of the leakiest net of the Ligue 1 season. Nevertheless, sometimes the underdog prevails, and that’s what happened as Depay flung himself at the ball to put Reynet under pressure.

One silky touch by the netminder was all it took for Depay to end up on his backside.

The 24-year-old Dutch winger has had a fantastic season and one that could potentially propel him back to the biggest stage and a bigger paycheck, but for now, we can all poke fun at his misery in the moment.

Dortmund admits interest in signing Batshuayi permanently

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Michy Batshuayi might be out for the season with a serious ankle injury, but he may have already done enough to earn a permanent move to Borussia Dortmund.

The Chelsea striker moved on loan to the Bundesliga side in January and made an immediate impact, scoring two goals on his debut, and ultimately wound up with seven goals in 10 Bundesliga games before his ankle injury brought his season to a close. Now, the Dortmund front office is speaking very highly of the Belgian goalscorer, not so subtly hinting that they will take an aggressive approach this summer.

The interest to sign him is there,” said Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke. “But first we have to wait and see who will be Chelsea’s coach next season. Then we’ll start looking.”

Chelsea has Antonio Conte currently at the helm, but there are strong rumors that the Italian will depart at the end of the season as the Blues sit comfortably outside the Champions League places. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is known for his quick trigger, and despite Conte winning the Premier League just last season, this year’s disappointment will likely not be tolerated.

That yet-to-be-determined future has a significant impact on Batshuayi’s future, as Watzke mentions. The new Chelsea boss could take a liking to Batshuayi, which could complicate his permanent move. In addition, it’s possible that current players on the Blues roster could depart, like Alvaro Morata, Olivier Giroud, or Willian, making Batshuayi’s place at Chelsea more tenable.

There’s plenty to be sorted out in the coming months, but with Batshuayi’s 10-game performance at Westfalenstadion at the forefront of Watzke’s mind, it’s clear there will be potential here as the summer draws near.

Sessegnon scores 15th as Fulham equals Man City unbeaten mark

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Fulham equalled the longest unbeaten run in the English top four tiers this season as it defeated sixth-placed Millwall 3-0 on the road to increase its streak to 22 games without a loss and moving the club into position for automatic promotion.

The Whites have not lost since December 16th when they fell 1-0 to relegation-threatened Sunderland. The unbeaten streak matches Manchester City’s run of 22 games to start the Premier League campaign before a 4-3 loss to Liverpool in mid-January broke the spell.

Highlighting the match was the game’s opening goal from 17-year-old Ryan Sessegnon, the young defender’s 15th goal of the Championship season. Just a week ago, Sessegnon was named a finalist for PFA Player of the Year alongside Harry Kane, Leroy Sane, and Raheem Sterling. Also scoring in the win was Newcastle loanee Aleksandar Mitrovic who has bagged 11 goals in 15 matches since moving to Craven Cottage on Deadline Day of the winter transfer window, sparking talk of a possible permanent move should the Whites find themselves promoted at the end of the season. Fulham has not trailed a single second since he stepped on the field for his club debut.

Manager Slavisa Jokanovic has the team firing on all cylinders, outscoring opponents 49-14 during the unbeaten streak and racking up 56 out of a possible 66 points, with just five draws blemishing an otherwise perfect record. The club has scored first in 15 straight matches, and has not trailed since drawing level in the closing minutes of a 2-2 draw with Hull City on December 30th. The only teams in the top four leagues to score more goals than Fulham since Jokanovic took over are Liverpool and Manchester City.

USMNT defender Tim Ream has been arguably the club’s most valuable player during the streak, locking down a defense that has picked up 11 clean sheets during the unbeaten run. Ream has played in all but two league matches this season, completing the full 90 minutes in all 41 of his appearances thus far. He has been voted Man of the Match five times this season by the fans on the team’s official website, most recently in a 1-0 victory over Reading on April 10th. He also grabbed the award in a 2-0 win over Championship title winners Wolves on February 24th, a game that saw the Whites out-possess and out-shoot the league champions. Ream had this stunning goal-line clearance in the victory over Millwall on Friday, saving Fulham’s bacon with goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli on the ground after an acrobatic save.

Fulham still has work to do in the Premier League promotion picture, despite the spectacular form. They sit in 2nd position as it stands, leading Cardiff City by two points, but Cardiff has yet to play this weekend, giving them a massive two games in hand. Fulham could ultimately be done in by a slow start to the season that saw them win just twice in the first nine matches of the season as the squad adjusted to a host of new additions. In addition, Fulham suffered a disappointing draw last time out against Brentford as the Bees scored in the 94th minute to deny Fulham all three points, a massive blow to their automatic promotion hopes. Still, Fulham would be considered favorites in any potential playoff run, with Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, and Millwall currently the other teams in playoff positions.

There’s plenty on the line for the club over the next few weeks. Should Fulham fail to gain promotion, it could be a massive blow to the club as Sessegnon could be lured away from Craven Cottage, with Jokanovic and playmaker Tom Cairney also likely to garner speculation of a departure over the summer if the club was to remain in the Championship.

Espanyol fires former Watford manager Quique Sanchez Flores

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Espanyol says it has fired manager Quique Sanchez Flores with the club slumping in the Spanish league and in danger of facing a relegation fight to end the season.

Espanyol announced the decision on Friday, adding sports director Jordi Lardin has also been let go.

Sanchez Flores, a former manager of Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Watford, among other clubs, coached the Barcelona-based club for the past two seasons.

Reserve team coach David Gallego will take over for the remaining five rounds of the season, starting with a visit to Girona on Sunday.

Espanyol hasn’t scored a goal in five matches, and has only two wins in the last 15 rounds. It is in 16th place, nine points from the drop.