Kit Carson revelled in his image as a star-maker with the power to help promising junior footballers realise their dreams of making it in the professional game.
He relished the glowing testimonials that his former players – among them household names – provided for his website and writings and he was never short of invitations to matches and glitzy football dinners.
But there was a darkness to Carson that only fully emerged after the Guardian broke the football abuse scandal in 2016.
Dozens of former players, among them ex-internationals, contacted the police and the children’s charity the NSPCC to say they had been sexually abused by Carson.
Carson’s death in a road crash just before the prosecution case against him was due to start at Peterborough crown court in January deprived survivors of the chance to give evidence against him.
His inquest gives a few answers but questions remain, not least how a man like Carson was able to work in the professional game for more than 20 years and why even after complaints were made about him he continued to be involved in the sport right up until his arrest.
Michael Sean Carson, to give him his full name, was a proud Irishman but lived his whole life in England. He gained his first football coaching badges while he studied economics at the University of Hull.
After a brief teaching career in Bedford he set up a football school, which he claimed was the first in England. He was successful and his potential was spotted in 1983 by Norwich City, then a First Division side.
At Norwich he brought through players who went on to win international honours including Craig Bellamy, Chris Sutton and Danny Mills. After 10 years he moved to Peterborough United, spending eight years there and working with the likes of Matthew Etherington and Simon Davies, both of whom went on to Premier League careers with Tottenham Hotspur. None of theses were complainants in the case against him.
Carson’s reputation was such that in 2005 the Premier League champions Chelsea, then managed by José Mourinho, appointed him as a scout co-ordinator for the East Anglia region.
Many of his players have gone on to become respected coaches in their own right, including Dan Ashworth, who was not one of the complainants, who until recently was the FA’s technical director.
Those who played for or worked with Carson paint a picture of an innovative coach. In a time before sports science was such an integral part of the game, Carson insisted that his young players ate properly and put a great emphasis on mental as well as physical strength. He was one of the first to give media training to his players.
He also looked towards Europe before many others, taking schoolboy players on hundreds of trips to Scandinavia, eastern and southern Europe to take part in tournaments that broadened their experience and resolve.
One of Carson’s Norwich players who went on to make it as a professional and still works in the game said: “Football life with Kit was an exciting adventure. Kit had ideas which were new in England and often ridiculed by the senior staff. We were taught about the importance of a strong mental attitude, nutrition and how to prepare for training and matches.”
On his website Carson claimed: “I probably know more about European grassroots soccer than almost any other youth developer in England.” It was boastful but a case could be made.
Away from football, Carson seemed a respectable family man. He was married to Pauline and was a proud father and grandfather. At the time of his death he and his wife lived quietly in a riverside flat in Cambridge.
But Carson was hiding a secret.
Former players have told the Guardian that as adolescents they were ordered to strip naked so that Carson could check how they were developing. Some were forced to exercise, do weights or swim naked as he watched.
Others have described being ordered to wrestle in muddy puddles in just their underwear both in the UK and during those trips abroad. They were also forced to massage each other with oil as Carson looked on.
So routine were these practices that most of the children simply obeyed without questioning. Besides, they knew Carson was the gateway to a career in football and if they resisted they faced the boot. One player told Carson to “fuck off” when the coach asked him to strip. He says he never played for a Carson team again.
The trips abroad were a perfect way for Carson to cement his relationships with boys, far from home and family.
Carson was emboldened to go further with some of the boys. His death means that the claims against him will not be tested before a jury but he was facing 12 counts of indecent assault and one of causing a child to engage in sexual activity. The allegations concerned 11 boys.
According to the particulars of the offences, the first alleged indecent assault happened at a hotel in the north of England in the late 1970s or early 80s.
The incitement offence allegedly happened as recently as February 2009 in Cambridge. This is said to have involved Carson showing the complainant images of scantily clad women while he exercised.
However, the bulk of the incidents took place in and around Peterborough, where Carson was academy director between 1993 and 2001.
At Peterborough, Carson worked with another now notorious figure in football – Bob Higgins, the former Southampton junior coach who in June was jailed for 24 years for abusing schoolboys over a 25-year period.
Higgins arrived at Peterborough in the mid-90s as the under-16s coach, having parted company with Southampton after six boys came forward to claim they had been sexually abused by him.
The police have played down the idea that Carson and Higgins abused boys together or were part of a wider paedophile network but at least one former Peterborough player – Dion Raitt – has said he was sexually targeted by both men and believes they colluded.
Raitt, who has waived his right to anonymity, has said he was groomed and abused by Higgins over many months. His contact with Carson was fleeting but disturbing.
He remembers being called to Carson’s office at Peterborough United’s ground and made to stand naked in front of him as his future was discussed.
“It was as though there had been some sort of highlight put against my name,” Raitt told the Guardian. “That’s how I feel. Either it was: ‘He really wants it,’ or ‘He’s really vulnerable.’”
There appear to be similarities in the ways the men operated, from persuading their charges to regard them as father figures to using massage to normalise physical contact.
Both also encouraged the boys to write to them. Higgins kept messages from his former players in which they professed love for him in his attic.
Carson published scores of testimonials from his players on his website and in a book he wrote about some of the players he worked with at Peterborough. The book, which includes photos of boys posing topless during trips abroad and one image of two players sleeping shirtless in twin beds, makes uncomfortable reading.
Higgins left Peterborough under a cloud with the club blaming his beliefs: he claimed to be a faith healer and “baptised” some boys in his bath.
Carson tried to cover for his colleague by claiming the commute from Southampton was too much for him and saying Higgins would continue to scout for Peterborough.
One of the many disturbing things about the Higgins case was that he was still working in the sport – albeit not directly with children – when the Guardian broke the football abuse scandal.
The FA also faces questions over how Carson was able to continue working in football after allegations about him emerged.
Carson eventually moved from Peterborough to Cambridge United and on to the non-league club Histon to work with its youngsters. Allegations about Carson were surfacing and it has been reported that in 2009 (at about the time of the alleged incitement he was charged with) his FA coaching licence was revoked. The FA has refused to confirm or deny this.
In 2013 Raitt wrote to Peterborough United, reporting what Carson and Higgins had done to him. The allegations were passed on to the police but no further action was taken. The FA was also made aware of Raitt’s complaint.
Despite this, Carson continued working in football. As late as 2014 he was the “official UK representative” in the UK for the Nørhalne Cup, a youth competition in Denmark. The cup manager, Per Jeppesen, said he had no idea that allegations had been made against Carson.
At the time he was arrested in January 2017 Carson was claiming on his LinkedIn profile to be a UK scout for the Finnish club SJK Seinäjoki and a football consultant. The Finnish club says it had no formal link with Carson.
The FA will not discuss why Carson continued to work in football after allegations about him had surfaced. A spokesman said only: “In line with our safeguarding practices, we are not in a position to comment on this matter.”
When he first appeared in court in April 2017, the magistrates agreed to a request to impose bail conditions including a ban on coaching children in the UK, travelling abroad to coach young people and being involved in scouting under-18s. It is clear that right up to his death the police and Crown Prosecution Service were worried that Carson remained a risk to children.
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