Graduation 13.04.24

Former footballer and abuse survivor Paul Stewart awarded honorary degree

Former England, Manchester City and Liverpool star Paul Stewart has been awarded an honorary degree by the University of Salford.

The award comes in recognition of Paul’s work on safeguarding with the university’s Social Work team which has been hailed as having ‘incredible impact’.

Paul was born and brought up in Wythenshawe, Manchester, where he dreamed of playing professional football. Horrifically, after being talent spotted at age 11, Paul suffered four years of abuse by a coach at a grassroots football club in Manchester.

As an adult, Paul went on to play for a number of clubs including Blackpool, where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, as well as Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. 

In November 2016, Paul went public as a victim of child sexual abuse, after reading an article about another footballer who had been abused as a child. Being a high-profile former player himself, Paul felt he had to speak up. Up until then he had not told anyone, including his family, about what had happened and had experienced real emotional challenges.

In 2017, Paul wrote his book ‘Damaged’, a powerful and moving account of both the abuse he suffered as a child and the aftermath of this abuse. Since then, he has dedicated his life to working on safeguarding children, young people and vulnerable adults.

He has his own company, Paul Stewart Official Excellence in Safeguarding, which provides safeguarding education to the football league, has developed safeguarding training (working with safeguarding experts), and has worked beyond football to help organisations better safeguard young people, by developing policy and practice. Settling up the company was something that Paul says he felt was key in creating a monumental shift in the way organisations work to keep people safe, especially children and young people.

Paul has contributed to the Social Work programme at the University of Salford since 2017. University staff have commended him as a powerful speaker who helps students improve their understanding of safeguarding and the potential long-term impact for individuals and families if safeguarding practice isn’t followed. 

Lecturer Sarah Riding, who nominated Paul for the honorary award, said: “Paul has equipped so many students with knowledge and insight that is transformative to their practice; he has become integral to the development of our first-year social workers. The incredible impact he has can be seen through the countless testimonials we get from students who have been deeply moved and inspired by his work.”

Paul has worked across the country with football academies including Watford and Fulham, as well as with Street Soccer amongst other organisations. His development of safeguarding courses provides organisations with practical tools and knowledge, helping the commitment to safeguarding excellence.

Paul said: “I am totally honoured to receive this award, it supersedes any of my football achievements, including playing for England and my FA Cup winner’s medal. Safeguarding is my passion and the future protection of children.”

Professor Margaret Rowe, Dean of the School of Health and Society, said: “I am delighted to award this honorary degree to Paul. His bravery in talking about his abuse as a high-profile footballer has had such an incredible impact not only for our students here at the university but across the country and beyond.”