Former Peterborough United coach denies abusing teenage players
A former Peterborough United football coach has denied sexually abusing teenage players.
Bob Higgins, who ran youth team coaching for Southampton FC and Peterborough United, is accused of using his position to abuse trainees, several of whom went on to become professional players.
The 66-year-old is facing a retrial at Bournemouth Crown Court accused of 51 counts of indecent assault against 24 complainants between 1971 and 1996, which he denies.
Giving evidence, Higgins denied he had “favourites” among the young players he worked with and dismissed the suggestion they were the only players to win professional contracts.
“No, if I had done that I would be out of a job,” he told the court.
Higgins said there was “no sentiment at all” in deciding which youngsters - signed on as associate schoolboys - would be offered apprenticeships at 16.
The defendant said many of the schoolboys were “devastated” when he had to tell them their dreams of a professional career at Southampton were over.
“The majority, probably all of them, were devastated,” he said.
Higgins said it was a joint decision between the managers of the youth, reserve and first teams and himself over who was taken on.
Under questioning from defence QC Alistair MacDonald, Higgins accepted he had driven boys to and from training - but never alone.
He denied driving any boy to Southampton’s stadium at the time, The Dell, for training.
Mr MacDonald asked: “At any stage did you do anything improper in relation to touching boys in your car?”
The defendant replied: “No.”
Mr MacDonald asked: “Did you ever wink in the mirror?”
Higgins said: “No.”
Mr MacDonald asked: “Did anybody in the vehicle have their arm around you from the rear?”
He replied: “No.”
Higgins said he played music in his car, by artists such as Whitney Houston, Lionel Richie and Gladys Knight, because he and his wife Shirley liked them and they were popular in the charts.
He also set up his own football academy, which ran throughout the summer holidays and took boys for one-week residential courses.
Higgins said that due to the intensity of the training and the risk of cramp he and other coaches would give the boys soap water massages, an idea he had copied from Leeds United manager Don Revie.
The defendant denied “knowingly or deliberately” touching the boys’ testicles or penises but agreed his hand “may have” touched their testicles but it would not have been deliberate.
Higgins told the court there was a “lot of banter” during the week-long course and the boys would receive lectures on different topics including personal hygiene.
The court heard that Higgins left school at 15 and wanted to work in professional football and began taking Football Association courses while working full-time outside the game.
“I knew I wasn’t going to be a footballer because I wasn’t good enough,” Higgins said.
The defendant told the court he wrote to several clubs asking for a job and even recommended to Queen’s Park Rangers a schoolboy he had played against.
By 1971 Higgins was working for Crystal Palace as a youth coach and running evening training sessions for youngsters.
He left Palace in 1973 and was later recommended to Southampton.
Higgins became the club’s youth development officer in 1975 - following the appointment of Lawrie McMenemy as manager - and worked at the club
Higgins told jurors he brought around 25 players through to Southampton’s first team squad, including eight who became internationals.
“It worked fantastically at Southampton because we have boys aged 16 or 17 playing in the first team,” he said.
Higgins, of Southampton, denies the charges and the trial continues.