Sportsmail can reveal the identity of the sexual predator who preyed on former England player Paul Stewart and other teenagers.
Frank Roper — who died in Stockport 11 years ago — was a renowned coach in the North West with strong links to Blackpool in the 1980s.
Stewart was sexually abused by the paedophile for years before signing for Blackpool. Sportsmail has been told of at least three other players who suffered similar abuse.
Stewart writes for Sportsmail urging other victims to come forward. He says Roper warned him that his family would be killed if he told anyone about his horrific ordeal.
Roper ran junior club Nova, which produced dozens of professional players. One witness says he saw Roper molest a young Thai boy while Nova travelled on an expensive summer tour in the Far East.
Others reveal how Roper gave money and an unlimited amount of kit, through his sports shop in Blackpool, to ‘groom’ boys.
Frank Roper , the man alleged to have sexually abused former England international Paul Stewart, was instrumental in the recruitment of dozens of schoolboys for Blackpool throughout the 1980s.
Former Tottenham and Liverpool forward Stewart, 52, revealed last week that he was sexually abused for four years. Roper warned Stewart that his family would be killed if he told anyone of the horrors he endured.
The alleged paedophile, whose name can be revealed by Sportsmail, deceived the club to such an extent that the son of the club’s then manager, Sam Ellis, even joined Roper on football trips to New Zealand.
Roper died in October 2005 but Sportsmail can now expose how he groomed and tormented teenage boys and his involvement with Blackpool during the 1980s, including:
- Ex-player Garry Vaughan’s account of how Roper lured him to his house as a 12-year-old and attempted to molest him and a friend.
- Former defender Mark Bradshaw’s memories of the physical abuse and Roper’s grooming methods.
- Ellis’s recollections of how Blackpool trusted Roper in recruiting youngsters.
Roper worked closely with Blackpool youth-team coach Jack Chapman and scout Bill Hurst, often pitching up on the touchline of boys’ games. His dealings with the club continued during Sam Ellis’s time as manager from 1982 to 1989.
The club trusted Roper, who regularly attended games and ferried schoolboys to matches. Ellis’s own son Tim even joined Roper and his youth team on a football visit to New Zealand at only 12 years of age.
There is nothing to suggest that Chapman, Hurst, Blackpool or anyone associated with the club were complicit in Roper’s abuse or were aware of it.
Sportsmail has spoken to a number of individuals who, as youngsters, played for Roper and others who came into contact with the paedophile.
Bradshaw, a former Blackpool left back, was one of those who played in the Nova team.
He was not sexually abused but his description of the environment is enlightening.
‘He’d want to talk about the size of your penis, things like that,’ said Bradshaw, now 47. ‘He’d want to know if any of us were sexually active and talk about it in front of three or four at a time in his car.
‘There was talk of touching in private areas, flicking, suggestive talk about sexual activity. ‘Would you like me to do this?’ … ‘Can I do this?’… ‘Do you want to touch me?’ Then lads would talk about stronger stuff.’
A process followed that Bradshaw describes as ‘classic grooming’.
‘We’d get tracksuits, boots. He’d take us to Blackpool for days out. Not just once, it was every week. Every home game for Blackpool. We’d get £50 cash each to spend in the arcades.’
At his Stockport home, boys would be invited to take away sports gear. It was there, at Roper’s four-storey house, that boys would be tormented.
Vaughan, a former professional for Port Vale, was not in the Nova team but Roper was keen to recruit him. When Vaughan was 12, Roper asked Vaughan’s mother if he could take her son and a friend to Blackpool for the day. His mother agreed.
‘We headed to Blackpool and picked up the sports gear,’ said Vaughan. ‘When we were getting back to Stockport, it was late and he asked if we could stay at his house. He put us both into bed and he went into his own.
‘In the middle of the night he jumped in bed with us. He tried to touch us both. I kicked him out and forced him off. We were 12 and scared. My pal was sobbing uncontrollably. I can still hear my friend crying in my head.
‘We forced him out of the room and put two stools up against the door. He was on the other side, pleading with us and swearing. On our side, my friend was in tears. I told my friend we had to be strong.
‘When the door opened in the morning, he warned us not to tell anyone, pleaded with us not to say anything. He filled the car with sports gear as a way to keep us quiet. I never told anyone until I told my mum four months ago.’
During the 1980s, he organised team trips for Nova to the USA and New Zealand. Former Leeds and Wigan player Kevin Sharp was one of the boys on the trips to New Zealand. He said he was not abused but his father, Frank, recalls how parents were wary.
‘I could write a book,’ Sharp Snr explained. ‘I was very concerned. I was the acting manager of Poulton FC. I was on the touchline and this man (Roper), Jack Chapman and Bill Hurst came up to me at Cottam Hall. They said they were Blackpool scouts and a select team from the Fylde Coast was going to tour New Zealand.
‘My first question was how much would it cost? They said nothing. I was suspicious. I had never encountered this kind of generosity. During later meetings, it emerged that it was going to cost £26,000. The man was funding it all himself.
‘What’s the reason for it? I wanted answers. My boy Kevin was 12, others were two or three years older. As parents, we all had concerns but it was billed as the opportunity of a lifetime.
‘Blackpool validated it. Sam Ellis was the manager and his son was on the tour. We had a meeting at the Tangerine club. Ellis and his wife Helen and parents of older boys were there.
‘Older boys from Manchester were also going (to New Zealand). People at Blackpool were saying Roper is a great fella. I was assured that it was a case of Frank wanting to sign players into Blackpool and then he’d take a cut.
‘I still felt uncomfortable. We sat in that meeting wondering why he was paying £26,000? My worry was more about drugs. I told Kevin not to bring anything through customs. We knew something was up but had no evidence.’
Sharp also recalled how Roper came to blows with another coach on a school playing field.
‘It was surreal,’ he said. ‘We were at a school in Kirkham (near Blackpool). This other guy approached Kevin and a team-mate and Roper came storming over telling him to keep away from his boys and there was a physical argument.’
The trips to New Zealand would include a stopover in Thailand, where Roper would gather sportswear to sell in his shops when he returned to Blackpool.
Speaking to Sportsmail at his home in Preston, Ellis said: ‘Let me tell you this now. I let my son go on trips to New Zealand in 1986 and 1987. That’s how much knowledge I had about him (Roper).
‘You talk to people, you ask kids and parents of kids who had been on trips before. You want to clear it for the club as well, because to a certain extent he was representing Blackpool FC.
‘Do you think I’d have sent my lad if I thought it was odd? The reason he ploughed in the money, as far as I knew, was that he took great big skips where he would get sportsgear and sell it back here.
‘The kids stayed with families in New Zealand. You question your kids when they come back. Tim never, ever brought up a thing about rumours or other lads.
‘Of course I am aware that as manager, it set an example that my boy went. I see that. I never had a problem with sending Tim on that trip. I never had a complaint from a parent, a boy or my staff.
‘The only time rumours started was when Frank disappeared (a few years later). I heard rumours. We still had no complaints.’
Tragically, Tim Ellis died in 2001 when he was struck by a lorry on a motorway underpass near Blackpool. The coroner ruled it to be an accident and his parents insisted he never mentioned any abuse.
‘He would have told us,’ said his father.
Roper’s influence in the Blackpool area began to wane following a trip to Thailand in 1988.
Frank Sharp explained: ‘Kevin came home one day and said, ‘The man wants to take us to Thailand’. This was not a football trip. I told Kevin he wasn’t to go and made sure his school backed that up.
‘Following the trip, Nova pretty much disbanded. Parents were only told something happened on the trip. The man (Roper) fled and wasn’t seen again.’
One of the boys on the trip told Sportsmail: ‘We were in the Asia Hotel in Bangkok. He left us there for a few days as he had business to sort.
‘We then headed up to the sister hotel in Pattaya, where he returned with a young Thai boy in tow. He molested him under the bed sheets. I could see the movements. We were in the room and saw him doing this to the Thai boy. He tried it on with me but I pushed him off and said, ‘F*** off’.
‘On plane journeys he’d have the blanket over us and he tried to mess around with me.
‘At restaurants, the hand might go under the table. After that trip, there was another trip to New Zealand but I told my mum and dad I didn’t want to go. The other boys couldn’t understand why.’
Roper cast his net far and wide. Children who played for him said he would regularly stay in a bedroom with one of their team-mates. When one player passed his driving test, he was bought a Golf GTI.
A Blackpool spokesman said that the club are yet to receive any information from the FA, PFA or police regarding any links to the club.
Greater Manchester Police declined to comment on whether they are investigating or whether Roper’s death would impact on any inquiries.
For those involved with Nova, most contact with Roper ended in 1988. Former Blackpool boss Ellis says he never heard from Roper following his disappearance. It would appear that Roper’s later years were spent in Thailand and Stockport.
Roper died in October 2005, taking with him one of football’s darkest secrets. His actions, however, will reverberate through the sport for years.
PAUL STEWART: I AM SORRY THAT FRANK ROPER IS DEAD
If I’m honest I’m disappointed at Frank Roper’s death, purely and simply for the fact that he won’t be held accountable for his actions, for what he subjected me to. My wife and daughters are gutted that he won’t be brought to justice.
But I did not come forward specifically for Roper to be brought to justice. I did it because I thought it would encourage others who might be struggling with the issues that I struggled with.
In some ways it is irrelevant that he is dead, because by coming forward with my story it has helped others and it has had the desired effect within the footballing world.
I would like to see other victims of Roper come forward and vindicate what I’ve already said. There are other people out there who were abused, that I know of. I know there are parents out there who know he abused their children.
I believe that some people have come forward but at this point have decided to stay anonymous.
Maybe now — when they read the story of his death — it might be easier for them to come forward. I don’t know for sure whether that will happen but I do hope this story does not fall away just because he is dead.
I met with a player Roper abused on Wednesday afternoon and we had a chat. I obviously can’t name the player, it’s up to him.
I also spoke to the PFA earlier in the week and they told me Roper had been mentioned to them. We know that there are people out there who have suffered the same as I did.
The fact that he is dead does not really change anything. I told my story in order to help others handle it. I did not handle it very well for many, many years and if I’m honest, I still struggle.
Even though I have come out with my story, my emotions are still all over the place in relation to this story. I’m hoping that time will heal.