One of the key whistleblowers in football’s child abuse scandal says it is a “joke” that Dario Gradi was able to retire on his own terms following his controversy-hit final years at Crewe Alexandra.
The 78-year-old, who will stand down from his role as director of football, was the club’s most successful manager, taking charge of 1,359 games during three spells from 1983.
However, in 2016, he was suspended by the Football Association as investigations were launched into abuse by youth coach Barry Bennell, who is now serving a 31-year sentence for abusing boys while at the club in the 1980s.
Gradi has always denied any knowledge of the abuse, but Andy Woodward, the first whistleblower to come forward to report attacks by Bennell at Crewe, told Telegraph Sport that Gradi should have been removed from the club as soon as the abuse allegations first surfaced.
His retirement also comes two months after a 247-page review into “non-recent child sexual abuse” at former club Chelsea outlined claims that he missed an opportunity to stop serial sexual offender Eddie Heath in the 1970s.
Woodward said: “The fact that he has retired is from my perspective a joke because he should have been removed from that football club after everything we all went through at the time. But in terms of the club, I think it’s beneficial to them and I think they can now move forward and heal. I’ve had nothing but admiration for the football club. It was what happened when he was in charge and I wanted him to be accountable. It’s a great community club – my grievance is with the people who should not have been in office.”
Dino Nocivelli, a solicitor for several other abuse victims, said his clients would “await the conclusion and the result of the FA’s investigation into Dario Gradi”.
“We also await the conclusion and publication of the FA Inquiry which in our view is long overdue,” he added.
Gradi led Crewe to four promotions, including twice guiding them into the second tier. He was responsible for launching the careers of a number of players who have made a major impact on the game, including Neil Lennon, Seth Johnson, Rob Jones Danny Murphy, David Platt, Robbie Savage and Geoff Thomas.
In 1998, Gradi was awarded an MBE for his services to football and he was honoured by the Football League in 2011 when awarded for his “Outstanding Contribution To League Football”.
However, in August, Gradi was also forced to deny smoothing over abuse allegations during his role as assistant coach at Chelsea in the 1970s. Gradi allegedly visited one of the youth-team player’s houses in the mid-1970s following an allegation against former chief scout Heath. He initially responded to the review in writing, via his solicitors, saying that he recalled taking details “in respect of inappropriate behaviour” by Heath and says that it was reported to the then interim manager.
“This was the end of my involvement in the matter,” said Gradi. “I completely deny that I ever attempted at any stage to ‘smooth over’ the matter.”
Crewe said in a statement confirming Gradi’s retirement: “(We) would like to thank Dario for his outstanding 36 years of service. We are pleased to know that he would be happy to continue to assist the club’s senior coaching staff.” Gradi was unavailable for comment.