Sunderland AFC’s players and staff came together earlier this week to raise awareness for Play Safe – a national FA-led campaign to raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding in football.

Alongside the club’s Safeguarding Manager, Sharon Brown, former player Paul Stewart held several talk-ins with members of the club’s first team and academy, as well as the families of youth players.

Stewart scored five goals in 34 league appearances for the Black Cats, whilst also representing Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, scoring for the North London side as they won the FA Cup in 1991.

Capped three times by England, the 57-year-old shared his personal story and spoke with immense honesty and courage about his experiences as a child and how those experiences continue to have an impact on his life today.

The emotional and powerful sessions were well-received by all that attended, as Stewart encouraged players and staff alike to play their part in supporting young players and enhancing safeguarding within the club.

Stewart said: “I had some good times at Sunderland AFC, so it was great to be able to come back for a few days and support the club. I know how difficult it can be for young players, so I want to help them in the journey they are embarking upon and ensure those around them do the same. Football is starting to understand the importance of having safeguarding support structures in place. It took some heart-breaking decisions from some of us to come forward, but when you look at the giant strides that have been made, it has all been worthwhile.”

SAFC’s Safeguarding Manager, Sharon Brown, added: “It is imperative that we have a child safe culture of vigilance in place throughout the football club and all staff – from the executive team to our coaches – have fully embraced this and supported me since I was appointed. It was an honour to welcome Paul to the Academy of Light this week and it is impossible not to be inspired by the courage and bravery he continues to display on a day-to-day basis. We look forward to working closely with him moving forward to ensure we continue to drive positive change within the football club.”

Play Safe is being run in partnership with the NSPCC and has the full backing of the Premier League, EFL, Barclays FA Women’s Super League and the FA Women’s Championship.

The main element of Play Safe is to emphasise the importance of clubs having safeguarding embedded in all that they do.

As the Survivor Group points out, you’ll see Play Safe appearing at various points throughout the season to keep safeguarding front of mind in football.

Together, clubs want to do everything they can so everyone – particularly children and young people – have a consistently positive experience within the game.

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