A former youth football coach has been found guilty of indecently assaulting young trainees.
Bob Higgins sexually touched and groped 24 boys, mostly trainees at Southampton FC and Peterborough United, between 1971 and 1996.
A jury at Bournemouth Crown Court found him guilty of 45 counts of indecent assault.
He was cleared of five counts of the same offence. The jury failed to reach a decision on a further count.
Higgins was found guilty of a further count of indecent assault after a trial last year.
During this year’s retrial, prosecutors told the court trainees “idolised” the defendant, who held “supreme power over their footballing futures”.
Many of the victims described Higgins as a God-like, mentor and father figure as they spoke of his influence over them.
Victims said they were abused during post-exercise soapy massages, in Higgins’ car while he played love songs on the stereo and at his home where he cuddled with boys on his sofa
Adam Feest QC said Higgins had shown a “systematic and all-pervasive pattern of grooming behaviour” in gaining the trust of the boys and of their parents.
‘Keep quiet or risk losing everything’
During his time as a coach, Bob Higgins worked with young footballers who would go on to become national heroes and household names.
But others were not so fortunate.
Some were haunted by their ordeals, and gave up on football entirely.
But such was Higgins hold over those he abused, many felt unable to say anything, even to close family members, for up to 30 years.
In the meantime, Higgins remained in football – and continued offending.
The allegations arose after the NSPCC set up a dedicated helpline for people who had encountered childhood abuse within football.
It was launched after a number of former footballers, including Billy Seymour, spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme in November 2016.
Mr Seymour, a Southampton youth player who went on to play for Coventry City and Millwall, was the only alleged victim in the trial to waive his right to anonymity.
He gave evidence at last year’s trial but was killed in a car crash in January before he could give evidence at the retrial.
Quiet sobbing from the packed public gallery became audible as guilty verdicts were returned on all six counts relating to Mr Seymour.
Higgins showed no emotion as the jury returned verdicts after more than 41 hours of deliberations.
Det Ch Insp Dave Brown, of Hampshire Police said his victims suffered “horrendous experiences” at the hands of a “predatory paedophile”
“He thrived on controlling and manipulating his victims and knowing that he held the career prospects of many young men in his hands.” he said
Police believe there could be more victims, who Det Ch Insp Brown urged to come forward.
Higgins is due to be sentenced at a later date.