United and England captain Rooney has given his backing to the NSPCC’s 24-hour counselling service, which received more than 50 calls on its first day of operation.
England captain Wayne Rooney is encouraging any player who has been sexually abused during their careers to call a new, dedicated football helpline so they no longer “suffer in silence”.
The confidential, 24-hour counselling service was launched by child protection charity the NSPCC and the Football Association on Thursday and it had already received more than 50 calls by 10am.
Woodward, Walters and White were victims of Barry Bennell, a youth coach and scout with links to Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City and Stoke, while Stewart was abused by another youth coach.
In a press release from the charity, Rooney praised Woodward for his bravery in being the first to speak publicly about his appalling experiences and assured others that they too would be given sympathy and support.
“It’s awful that some of my colleagues have suffered this way whilst playing the sport that I and they love,” the Manchester United star said.
“Andy has been really brave to come forward and I would encourage anyone who has or is suffering from abuse to call the NSPCC’s new football helpline.
It’s important that people know that it’s ok to speak out, there is help available and that they don’t need to suffer in silence.”
FA chairman Greg Clarke wrote to the 30,000 clubs in England on Thursday to assure them that the governing body was investigating what happened in the past and redoubling its efforts to make sure it never happened again.
He also urged the clubs to make anybody who might need help aware that it was available on 0800 023 2642.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless welcomed Rooney’s involvement in the campaign to safeguard the game’s next generation of players and find justice for those so badly wronged in the past.
“I am delighted that Wayne has backed our helpline in support of his fellow players,” said Wanless.
“He’s a hero to millions, hugely admired by others at every level of the game, and I hope his words give courage to those who may be afraid of coming forward.
“We know that men are less likely to speak up about abuse, and from the response to our hotline so far it’s clear that this could be the tip of the iceberg, so we are very grateful to Wayne for lending his support.”
The NSPCC has worked with the FA since the late 1990s on child protection and has given the governing body glowing reports for its work in this area in recent years.
But the revelations of the last week, which have prompted a fresh investigation by Cheshire Police and internal reviews at Crewe and Manchester City, have demonstrated that football has not always been such a safe place for the most vulnerable.
The new hotline is available 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.