Former Sunderland midfielder Paul Stewart (left) was a victim of abuse. Rebecca Naden/PA.

Former Sunderland midfielder Paul Stewart (left) was a victim of abuse. Rebecca Naden/PA.

The sexual abuse scandal has shocked English football, but North East fans have paid tribute to the region’s former players who have come forward to report their harrowing experiences.

The recent revelations regarding Barry Bennell, and since then further coaches and scouts, have stunned football fans, and the fact that their clubs did not know the threat posed by people they employed – no matter how long ago – is disturbing.

In the North East, former Newcastle United player Derek Bell and one-time Sunderland star Paul Stewart have revealed the abuse they suffered as young players – Stewart while growing up in the North West – and discussed the mental scars they have carried ever since.

Fans have commended them and other players who have had the courage to report their abuse, but supporters are also wondering what else has gone on behind the scenes and how dark football has become.

Tom Walsh, writer at Sunderland fan site Roker Report, said: “Most young boys dream of being footballers but only a select few actually realise that goal. Being told by a coach that they are a ‘special talent’ forges a huge amount of trust between the player and senior staff.”

The editor of Newcastle’s True Faith fanzine, Michael Martin, described Bell’s decision to come out as “heroic”.

“I am sure every Newcastle United supporter admires him for his courage and wishes him all the best for his future,” said Martin.