With a St Kilda jumper as bait, paedophile coaches turned boyhood dreams into nightmares
By Russell Jackson
Updated of a football dream, but for some players at St Kilda, Little League football became a nightmare.(ABC News) Like so many other boys, he could ignore the uncomfortable moments if it meant pulling on a St Kilda jumper. It was 1976. He was 11 years old. A friendly man with a doting wife and a baby in the pram beside them offered him a game in the Saints Little League team. The man said he was the team manager, or maybe the assistant coach.
The boy was flattered by the attention, so the precise details barely mattered. It felt like the day his football dream was moving closer to reality. Like so many who played for the St Kilda Little League, he’s now a man who doesn’t want his name forever associated with the paedophile ring that infiltrated the team in the 1970s.
He has a career and a name to protect, and after all, it wasn’t his fault. Yet he also knows the sad truth: this is how it works. This is how boys are silenced and remain mute in manhood. In recent weeks, he’s cried tears of guilt for the others — the ones who haven’t lived normal lives.
Warning: This story contains details of child sexual abuse which may disturb some readers. Many boys have come forward to say they were abused during their time playing St Kilda Little League.(Supplied) Thinking back, he’s upset he didn’t see the warning signs. The man had taken such a genuine interest in him, driving him to Saints training and other outings, watching his junior games, developing a warm, father-like interest in a matter of weeks. But he says the lingering shoulder rub at the bowling alley certainly put him on edge. The boy played in round six — St Kilda vs Footscray at the Western Oval. At the beginning of the second quarter, two men led the boy and his Saints teammates into the senior change rooms and kitted them out like their heroes. At half-time, they played — miniature league footballers for a day. Next the boys lined the race for high-fives as their idols ran back out for the main game: Trevor Barker, Cowboy Neale, Barry Breen, George Young, Carl Ditterich, Rex Hunt. St Kilda lost by five points, but it was intoxicating.
Every boy hoped he’d done enough to play again the following week. A week later, things were looking up: the boy packed his boots and socks and the man’s car edged down the driveway. They drove away together for another day at the football. Then came a confusing update: the boy was only an ’emergency’ player. More doubts crept in. He wondered why this man who so clearly wasn’t the coach was driving him and other boys around town on weekends. “I don’t think I was actually an emergency,” he says now. “I went along, but I was never going to play. Looking back, he just said that to string me along and build me up. It was just a ruse for the man who was grooming me, to get me out on a Saturday afternoon.” Sexual assault support services: 1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732 Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114 Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636 The boy didn’t play. On the car ride home, a kilometre or two from home, he says he felt the shock of the man’s hands caressing his leg and moving up. Every misgiving and moment of confusion sharpened into focus, and he yelled: “Stop the car, I’ll get out here.” He says he’s never forgotten that panicked moment — the precise location, the feeling of fear. “He’d sort of presented himself as the team manager, but in hindsight, he wasn’t. He was just this sort of hanger-on. “Here was me thinking I might get to play another game for St Kilda Little League the whole time. I hung in there because I thought I’d get chosen. And that was, for my ego, the closest I’d get to playing for St Kilda.” Now his prevailing feeling is anger — not only that nothing was done to protect him and other boys, but that the Saints jumper and the glamour of league football was the bait used to lure them towards harm. Since he read the story of Rod Owen’s abuse at the hands of St Kilda Little League coach Darrell Ray and team manager Albert Briggs, like many others, he’s also been wracked by guilt. Could he have spoken up? Was that his job? Addiction almost killed AFL star Rod Owen Rod Owen was a St Kilda star at 16, but within a year he was an alcoholic and drug addict. Many blamed his spiral on injuries and partying, but his addictions masked childhood traumas he’ll never forget. Read more Yet neither Ray nor Briggs was the man who groomed him. It was another fixture of the Saints Little League scene in that time — the one whom only the boys who crossed his path remember. His name was Gary Mitchell, a teaching colleague of Ray’s at Beaumaris Primary School, and a regular lieutenant in the football teams Ray coached. Like Ray, Mitchell was a prolific sex offender. For six decades, he groomed and molested schoolboys who were placed in his care, leaving some of his victims to reel for decades in states of suicidal depression and misery. It took some survivors 50 years to speak of the horrors Mitchell subjected them to. As schoolteachers, the pair would fondle boys’ genitals for three to four minutes at a time — ordeals that many have never gotten over. Gary Mitchell taught at Beaumaris Primary School, along with being on the Saints Little League scene.(Supplied) Dozens of Ray’s former players who spoke to the ABC in the last three weeks now wonder how Mitchell — unelected, undocumented and unsupervised — could create an unhindered path to grooming boys in the football teams coached by Ray, and how for a decade, between 1967 and 1977, the St Kilda Football Club provided the setting for wholesale child sex offending by Darrell Ray. Because not every boy jumped out of the car, dodged a wandering hand or escaped the clutches of Darrell Ray and Gary Mitchell. And not every boy has lived to tell his story. ‘He was like an octopus, basically’ St Kilda’s public response to Owen’s story was swift and emphatic. “No child should have to endure what Rod experienced, and to hear that this abuse took place under the St Kilda name is shattering,” Saints CEO Matt Finnis said in a statement. “Rod, and others like him, must be assured that should you make the choice to disclose information of this nature you will be heard, you will be supported, and most importantly, you will be believed.” Finnis said the club would “seek advice from police and expert agencies to ensure Rod and anyone else who may come forward is supported.” In the coming months, several men seem likely to seek such belief and support. “This bastard f***ed up my life,” said one former St Kilda Little League player who told the ABC he was sexually abused by Darrell Ray. Another player, who tallied 40 Saints Little League games between 1974 and 1976, outlines Ray’s prolific and unsophisticated offending: “He tried to molest as many children as he could,” he says. Throughout the 1970s, Darrell Ray went unsupervised for entire Saturdays he spent with the players from his football teams.(Supplied) “I used to cringe when I’d see him putting his hands down people’s pants in the dressing rooms. “You’d be standing there and he’d lean over you. He’d sit next to you and start. “He was pretending to tuck your jumper in or whatever and have a feel-up at the same time. He was like an octopus, basically, the way his hands were going.” In change rooms, and on car rides to training and games, it was a routine that Ray would repeat for the duration of his 11-season stint as St Kilda Little League coach, and is the basis of most of the former players’ current allegations towards him. The 40-game player says Ray built his St Kilda teams around a select group of star players — a team within the team. More often than not, he says, they were the half-dozen boys Ray regularly picked up from their homes early on Saturday mornings, only dropping them back home in the darkness of the early evening. Ray “hand-picked” his teams, using the Little League as leverage.(Supplied) Other players called the select group “Ray’s favourites”, or “Ray’s pets”, but for some, that privileged status came at a cost. Favourites and pets were often boys the coach had molested. Some were also groomed by team “hanger-on” Gary Mitchell. St Kilda Little League team manager Albert Briggs — molester of Rod Owen, and a man described by an associate of the time as “strange” and “possessive” of the Little League boys — was not exactly a shoulder to cry on. “Mr Briggs was not friendly,” another former player says. “He was a headmaster type figure who you didn’t mess with. I never liked him, but I never knew why.” Players say Ray preyed on the youngest and smallest players, and “left the big kids alone”. As smaller players matured, some were able to physically stand up to Ray, but by then, many say they had suffered years of abuse. For some, it was almost impossible to escape Ray’s vortex. Up to a dozen boys per season simultaneously played in three different football teams coached by Ray — his school, club and Little League sides — and in summer, cricket teams too. Exploiting the power imbalance, they say Ray created an almost unquestioning loyalty between player and coach. Ray coached Little League, club and school football sides, creating an unescapable vortex for many young boys.(Supplied) Having secured their silence, the former players say Ray could and did interfere with the boys in almost any context. One player recalls rationalising it by telling himself: “He’s gonna get us into the footy team one day”. Among boys whose entire world was sport, Ray also created a godlike coaching persona. “At that age, a footy coach is someone you look up to,” one player says. “That’s how he got our trust.” To understand the thrall Ray exerted, and the captivity in which he held the boys he groomed and abused, you need only ask for the recollections of players he coached. Some still feel, even after all these years, a strange gratitude, for his football guidance at least. “The irony is that he was actually a very good football coach,” one says. “He taught us a lot of skills. Obviously, he was a bad person, but he was a good coach, and always friendly.” Another says: “Everybody loved Darrell Ray. And I must admit, he was a bloody good football coach. He was creative.” Many boys thought playing for St Kilda Little League was their first step towards stardom.(VFL Annual Report) A third, who played Saints Little League in 1977, hints more tellingly at the dynamics at play: “I don’t know if anybody put it this way, but my understanding is that some of those kids almost fell in love with him. The kids were in awe of him, because he had the power to play them in the Little League.” Amazed to consider his unthinking compliance from the distance of 45 years, the 40-game Little League star of mid-70s cuts his nine-year-old self some slack. “It was a big time in our lives, where we were living this pretend lifestyle trying to be AFL players,” he says. “We all used to say: ‘I play for St Kilda’.” But playing for St Kilda had pitfalls. Another player from St Kilda’s 1974 Little League team says he remembers Ray’s Cheshire cat grin as he watched the boys showering in the Kardinia Park change rooms after a muddy game against Geelong. Standing in the shower among Ray’s “favourites” that day was a boy whose story now haunts the memories of those who knew him. ‘God, he was just a kid’ One former St Kilda Little League player describes the impact on those who were abused by Ray as a continuum. Fighting back tears, he places himself at the “not affected” end of the scale, then progresses through other phases — the drug and alcohol abuse, stunted emotional growth, unfulfilled potential, mental health breakdowns and shattered lives of some men — until he reaches the “horror stories”. Trevor Foster is one of the horror stories. Trevor Foster’s eye-catching looks and sporting brilliance were memorable to many who played with him. (Supplied) Trevor was the kind of boy who needed only a fleeting moment to make a lifelong impression. One Saints Little League player who recalls barely a second of the 1973 and ’74 seasons brings immediately to mind the image of Foster’s long blond locks trailing him as he flew for a spectacular mark, like a miniature Trevor Barker. Teammates from Foster’s mid-teen years remember a talent reminiscent of Melbourne’s champion wingman Robert Flower — a dashing outside player who was somehow also bravely diving in and under the packs, always at the forefront of the action, in football and in life. Trevor’s sister Leigh, five years younger, recalls how the universal adoration of her brother smoothed her own path through primary school. “I’d walk down the street and people would say ‘There’s Little Foster’,” she says. “Who I became in those early days was based on his reputation.” That reputation was built not just on Foster’s sporting brilliance and eye-catching surfie appearance, but an effortless charisma that set him apart. In Beaumaris FC junior teams containing players destined for league lists, Trevor was elected captain. Yet in the macho environs of football clubs, this leader was his own man — a poetic soul and an oddball. Trevor was a poetic soul who played football fearlessly.(Supplied) There were signs of inner turmoil, too. A former teammate describes his playing style: “He had a bit of courage, which might have been a bit of fearlessness, which might have been a bit of recklessness, which might have been a bit of ‘F*** the world, I don’t care what happens to me’.” Nowadays, Trevor’s mates lament the traits that defined him, because they were the same ones that would have made him such easy prey for Darrell Ray: he wasn’t just short, but wisp-thin and cute; upon his arrival in town, he fell within Ray’s preferred range of eight and nine-year-olds; he was besotted with football and eager to please; tellingly, Trevor’s dad was not on the scene, and he tended to project the deficit of fatherly guidance. Ray spotted the talent and vulnerability immediately. Foster was ushered into the Saints Little League scene, and more than any player in the team, boisterous but fragile Trevor gained confidence in the cheers from the outer. From a shoebox of ephemera, one of Foster’s St Kilda Little League teammates of that period produces Ray’s typed match report of the team’s game against Fitzroy at Moorabbin in 1974. It hints at Foster’s dilemma: “‘Mighty Midget’ Foster was a great forward, and obviously a favourite of the crowd, judging from the roar each time he got the ball.” Trevor was also a favourite of Ray’s. Unable to contain her anger as she describes the four decades of drug abuse and hardships that followed, one friend summarises the conclusions drawn by most who knew Trevor: “His life was just a complete and utter tragedy.” Moving to the Gold Coast in his adulthood, Trevor Foster found it difficult to create a stable life for himself.(Supplied) Unlike many of Ray’s victims, who repressed their traumas quickly and sometimes forevermore, friends and family say Trevor felt immediately compelled to disclose what the coach was doing to him, sharing details with children who couldn’t comprehend his experiences and adults who refused to. Eventually, that inaction contributed to a sense of betrayal from which he never recovered. “He coped however he could cope. He just turned to drugs,” his sister Leigh says. She remembers how a “bright, normal, kid” started to hit the skids in his teens. Drinking and drugs were common features of the teenage lifestyle in 1970s Beaumaris, but Trevor, lacking fatherly guidance, unsupported through his ordeal and disdainful of authority, seemed keener than most to push the boundaries. His fearlessness on the football field bled into the rest of his life, and his limitless potential seemed to evaporate. “He was always looking for someone to support what he’d gone through,” Leigh says. “He’d put things out there and people would be uncomfortable or not support him, and that would set him off even worse.” Leigh (right) says the abuse her brother suffered turned his life on its head.(Supplied) In his late teens, Foster moved to the Gold Coast, closer to his father, but life became no easier. Consumed by his various resentments, he traded the cheeky charisma that endeared him to all for a wounded sense of persecution that could damage relationships and ruin employment opportunities. Attendees at Trevor’s 21st birthday party recall a jarring speech full of digs at those who’d let him down. Friends who’d seen the sun-bleached knockabout wooing women at the beach struggled to reconcile the Trevor of happier times with the jaundiced drug addict who railed at society’s failings. Convictions for drink-driving and marijuana cultivation gave way to early parenthood, and the possibility of a settled life. But like his grounds keeping jobs at golf courses, grown-up responsibilities never stuck for long. If there was a 50:50 decision to be made, Trevor would always go the wrong way. He felt constantly judged. Once thought of as a pot-head dreamer, he became a heavy user, self-sabotaging his way into endless setbacks. Trevor was a member of Darrell Ray’s St Kilda Little League and Moorabbin Cats teams in 1974.(Supplied) In the late 1990s, there was briefly hope of a turnaround. Buoyed by the bravery of former schoolmates who’d prompted a police investigation, Trevor hoped to become involved in the prosecution of Ray. But what might have been a period of vindication, catharsis and rebirth turned sour: with nobody to back his story, Trevor was not involved in the trial; Ray’s 44-month sentence for 27 counts of indecent assault carried a minimum of just 17 months in jail; where other victims pursued successful civil action and received compensation payouts, Trevor almost inevitably missed out. “That personifies Trevor in his 20s and 30s.” Leigh says. “Nothing ever seemed to work out for him.” As all the letdowns sunk in, Trevor’s life slowly but surely unravelled. Steady relationships and regular housing were swapped for boarding houses and cheap hostels. By his 40s, bipolar and schizophrenic diagnoses were no surprise to the family and friends who’d receive his irregular phone calls — sometimes the charming Trevor of his boyhood, reciting a brilliantly-conceived poem, more often the paranoid, addled and aggressive stranger who’d replaced him. Considered worldly and literate, Trevor had written a few unpublished books. Now he threatened homicide and self-harm, talking in delusional diatribes about a TV script he’d written and an upcoming trip to Sydney to pitch it — the journey from which he’d never return. If you or anyone you know needs help: Lifeline on 13 11 14 Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 Headspace on 1800 650 890 ReachOut at au.reachout.com Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN) on 1800 008 774 It is difficult for those who knew Trevor at his vivacious best to imagine the hopelessness of his final days: the brush-offs from startled receptionists at the TV production offices he stalked with his ‘script’; the sighting of Foster, wearing only underpants, mumbling incoherently into a public telephone at the Tooronga Zoo wharf; the final glimpse of him recorded by a CCTV camera at Circular Quay, where he took possession of some property from an unidentified man and walked in a southerly direction towards his demise. Among the many horrifying aspects of what followed, the inability of paramedics and the New South Wales coroner to determine the precise date of Trevor’s death is only a subtle indignity. Yet its imprecision speaks of the bureaucratic indifference felt by many victims of sexual abuse: “Mr Foster died on 26 or 27 February 2012.” Foster was 48 years old, broken and homeless. He died from stab wounds to the neck, most likely inflicted by a fellow rough sleeper — a lonely and demeaning ending, buried under a pile of tattered blankets in a garden bed within Sydney’s Domain parklands. “How and by whom those wounds were inflicted has not been ascertained,” the inquest stated. Leigh chooses to remember the spirit of Trevor’s first eight years, rather than the 40 years of confusion and pain that followed. Trevor Foster was described as a happy kid in his younger years.(Supplied) “To screw someone up to the extent it did, for him to have led the rest of his life the way he did, it just wasn’t him,” she says. “And yeah, he smoked a lot of drugs — which was him trying to self-medicate — but God, he was just a kid. Pragmatic in their grief for the clever little urchin who lit up so many lives, the Fosters found no fault with two particularly tragic sentences from the inquest: “It is impossible to exclude the possibility that Mr Foster caused the injuries to himself while delusional.” “Further it is possible, although much less likely, that another, unidentified third party caused the fatal wounds.” ‘A popular means of introducing boys to League football’ AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan also responded to Rod Owen’s story. “Anyone who has that type of experience, please contact the police, our integrity department, and we will deal with it in the appropriate way,” McLachlan told the ABC in April. “There’s a couple of things. There’s obviously a police issue at the heart of it. As I understand, that league hasn’t operated for decades. So, I guess the primary thing I’d say is that we take these things seriously, we’ll work with the police.” To the frustration of some survivors, there is, in fact, no police issue at the heart of it. In 2001, Darrell Ray wasn’t convicted for the many offences his former players say occurred in St Kilda Little League and club football settings, only for indecent assault of students at two primary schools he taught at in the 1960s and ’70s. A certificate presented to Rod Owen for playing in the Saints Little League and finals in 1977, signed by Albert Briggs and Darrell Ray.(Supplied: Rod Owen) McLachlan was right in the other respect: the Little League has not operated in decades. In the late 1990s, the AFL replaced it with its current AusKick program. But for more than 30 years, Little League games were a key feature of the AFL’s match-day experience. It started as a marketing innovation, of course. At the tail-end of the 1960s, VFL (now AFL) administrators fixated on the influx of British schoolteachers into the Victorian education system, worrying that a generation of schoolboys would be converted to the round-ball game. One solution to drive junior participation was dreamt up by former Carlton champion Graham Donaldson, a marketing executive at the State Savings Bank. In 1967, the ‘SSB Little League’ was born, attracting immediate interest from most of the VFL clubs. The Little League began in 1967 and continued until the 1990s, when it was replaced by the AFL’s AusKick program.(Supplied: Football Record) In the 1970s, the VFL described the Little League as a “popular means of introducing boys to League football” which ensured “the overall promotion of the game”. Other naming rights sponsors in the decades following included Staminade, Big M, Elastoplast, Hungry Jack’s and McDonalds. Another Little League coach of Darrell Ray’s time said he and colleagues received briefings and training at VFL House. Each club committed to fielding at least 100 Under-11 players per season, theoretically giving boys within club recruiting zones an early opportunity of playing on league grounds, wearing replica team uniforms, soaking up the attention of big crowds at half-time of VFL games. A VFL annual report of the mid-1970s said the Little League was “an attractive and popular addition to the daily football programme.” But for some St Kilda players, there were unattractive complications. ‘It’ll never be water under the bridge’ Darrell Ray was certainly in the right place at the right time when the Little League was formed. But the sad truth of the 11-season coaching reign, in which he used the position to abuse St Kilda players, is there probably weren’t many other takers for such an unglamorous position. In 1967, Ray had taken up a teaching placement and football coaching duties at Tucker Road Primary in Moorabbin, the school he would be ousted from in 1970 after committing indecent assaults that eventually formed part of a criminal case against him. From the outset, the administration of the Saints Little League team fell to Albert Briggs, who’d eventually earn himself life membership at St Kilda. Briggs was well credentialed to create a junior team from scratch: he was president of the nearby Moorabbin Youth Club, which fielded an Under-11s team in a local league. Nearby too was Ray. Soon the young librarian was doing double duty coaching both the Moorabbin Youth Club ‘Cats’ and the Saints Little League team. In the early years, the St Kilda team was comprised mainly of boys who lived in Moorabbin West’s housing commission flats. “Most of the kids didn’t have parents who really gave a shit,” a 1967 Saints Little League player says. “They were too busy working or they were single. They were happy to get the kids out of the house and out of the way.” In 1969, Ray coached Tucker Road’s football team to a premiership in its local competition. A photograph from the local newspaper presents Ray as sterner than his later self, but his relish for coaching had already become clear. The 1969 Tucker Road Primary School premiers and their coach, Darrell Ray.(Moorabbin Standard) A player from Ray’s 1968 and 1969 St Kilda Little League teams outlines the ease with which Ray went undetected in his offending when he led boys into empty change rooms at St Kilda’s Moorabbin home. “He was a deviant bastard and he just … he knew what he was doing, where he was doing it and how to hide it,” the player says. “That’s why nobody came forward and nobody knew about it. “You’d get changed in the second quarter. You’d go into the home change rooms or even, sometimes, the away change rooms, depending on what was going on. You went in, and there was nobody else in there. They were all out on the ground, all the coaching staff, all watching [the senior game]. “We went out at half-time and then stood guard as the players ran out, and then we went in and there was nobody inside again. You didn’t have parents in there. Just Darrell Ray. That was it.” Asked to describe the frequency of Ray’s sexual molestation of boys, in which the coach would place his hands down the pants of players and fondle their genitals, the player says: “He was just prolific. Absolutely prolific. You just put it in the back of your mind because your parents weren’t going to believe you.” Ray vanished from the Little League scene in 1977.(Supplied) Yet it couldn’t stay buried forever. The 1968-69 player says he was so psychologically damaged by Ray’s actions that when his first child was born, he struggled to physically touch her for three months, and was similarly triggered by the recent birth of his first grandson. “I shouldn’t have to feel like I did,” he says. “And it’s not just water under the bridge. It’ll never be water under the bridge.” ‘To be abused in front of your peers, it added another layer’ By the early 1970s, there was necessarily a lot of crossover between Ray’s Moorabbin and St Kilda teams, so both trained at the nearby Widdop Crescent Oval. The Cats played early on Saturday mornings, and many boys then switched to Saints jumpers and headed off with Ray to whichever league ground was hosting the St Kilda Little League in the afternoon. From a distance, one might say the overlapping personnel within the teams was simply a case of convenience, but as the 1970s progressed, many players say they learned the hard way that Ray’s control of both teams was central to his manipulation and abuse of boys. For one thing, Ray promoted the idea that the easiest way for talented boys to wear a cherished St Kilda jumper was to join the Cats, which guaranteed him many of the region’s best players. The scheduling of games — Cats first thing in the morning, Little League games after 3pm — also meant that Ray could plausibly pick up a carload of boys from their homes at 7:30am on Saturday and not return them to their parents until nightfall. Along with coaching football teams, Ray took on the duty of cricket coach in the summer.(Supplied) A regular passenger on those trips around Melbourne recalls the dilemma: “When we got in the car, normally, most kids would want to be in the front, but we wouldn’t. “We’d not want to sit in the front of the car on the way home, because he could put his hand across.” “I used to shit myself thinking I’d be the last person in the car. I was thinking, ‘Is he gonna try it again one day? I would pray I would not be the last person dropped off.” In 1970, Darrell Ray coached St Kilda to its first Little League premiership. Until recently, for some players, it was a happy memory from an innocent time. For others, the mere mention of Ray’s name conjures scenes they’d prefer to forget. A player from that team who says he was molested by Ray says the coach was not just a frequent offender in those early days, but an overconfident one who made no attempt to hide his behaviour. “It seemed like I was just one of a lot of kids, the way things happened,” he says. “I’m lucky. I haven’t suffered nearly as badly as others did. But when you read about people such as Rod Owen, you think, ‘Shit.’ Something should have been said or done in those sorts of times to say: ‘Stop. Hang on. This is no good’.” The molestation — often carried out in front of other players, and sometimes in sight of parents — echoed Ray’s behaviour at Beaumaris Primary, and that of his teaching colleague and regular coaching lieutenant Gary Mitchell. St Kilda’s 1976 Little League took on Richmond at the MCG shortly after this photograph was taken of Rod Owen, who was nine years old at the time.(Supplied: Rod Owen) One survivor of years of abuse by Ray and Mitchell at Beaumaris Primary, also a keen footballer, says the public nature of the offending and the complex traumas it created for boys cannot be underestimated: “Often, I was being abused in public — in the library, in front of my peers. It was quite profound. You had this horrible experience of being abused, but to be abused in front of your peers, it added another layer. “Ray was a really, you know, a f**ed-up sort of individual, in terms of his level of behaviour. It was horrific. “It’s really challenging to a person who would not think about doing that to another individual. “To be completely powerless, it’s very difficult. And the sad thing was, you had to turn up the next day, and the next day, and the next day, and be constantly reminded of that. “In my case, I would disassociate, which is a by-product of trauma. I’d spend countless hours just drifting out of the classroom. Every day, when I walked to school, I’d think, ‘Jesus, what is going to happen to me today?'” He says that Ray ensured his silence by threatening his life, but in the cases of boys from Ray’s football teams, the hyper-masculine and often homophobic atmosphere of the sport did a lot of the abusers’ work for him. “There is probably something to consider about the environment,” he says. “A child that happens to be male has been sexually abused by a male in a very masculine environment. That’s very difficult for the victim on many levels. Football has a macho image, so there are layers of complexity to that and how it directly affects the victim — their masculinity and how they feel about it, their view of themselves.” One former Saints Little League player says the boys tried to warn other kids about Ray.(Supplied) Looking back now, some players also shake their heads at the way Ray used his contacts at St Kilda to convince unwitting senior players to help out with Little League training, further convincing starstruck boys they were on the brink of the big time. Trophy presentations took place in the St Kilda social club, and senior players — unaware of the scene they’d been dragged into — also attended end-of-season barbecues and fundraisers for the team. One regular Little League player remembers his awe at Ray’s privileged status on game days at Moorabbin. “He seemed to have full access to the rooms, all the time,” he says. “I was flabbergasted with how he used to be able to just walk in. We’d wait outside for him to come back and tell us if we could go in or not. “That was part of the manipulation as well, because we were all there wanting to see the stars.” ‘It was a good little league’ In 1973, St Kilda’s eagerness to develop its junior talent pipeline led to the establishment of an entire junior league under the club’s name. It featured teams from established clubs in the neighbouring suburbs of Moorabbin, Black Rock, Beaumaris, Cheltenham and Sandringham. In time, the ‘St Kilda Junior League’ would expand to encompass Under-13s, 15s and 17s, acting as a key pathway to the Saints’ junior development squad and VFL Under-19s team. From the outset, the league’s finals were played on St Kilda’s senior home ground at Moorabbin. “Overall, the original St Kilda Junior Football League was a good little league,” says one coach of the time. St Kilda Football Club started the junior league for players under 11, in 1973.(Moorabbin Standard.) In the club’s corporate structure, the league eventually sat in the ‘Junior Development and Recruiting’ section, reporting to the general manager and football sub-committee, one rung below the club’s Board of directors. Saints Junior League administrators reported to senior St Kilda administrator Ian Drake, and coaches in the league performed talent-spotting duties for Drake as part of a team that would grow to comprise 20 scouts. In time, the St Kilda Junior League would feature prominently in club newsletters and annual reports, and the program eventually met its aim of producing senior players, among them Rod Owen. But it came at a disastrous cost. Effectively, St Kilda had created a competition whose most ambitious, successful and acclaimed coach — the Saints’ own Little League coach, Darrell Ray — was also one of the region’s most prolific child abusers. In 1973, Ray coached St Kilda Little League to its second premiership. But at the pointy end of the inaugural St Kilda Junior League season, Ray’s Moorabbin Cats lost the grand final. The fallout would shock and anger rival coaches and parents. Long-time St Kilda Little League team manager Albert Briggs poses with members of the 1973 premiership team.(Moorabbin Standard) Ray commenced a bizarre recruiting campaign whose intent was to establish a superteam. Among the players raided from other St Kilda Junior League teams, he poached almost half of Beaumaris FC’s best team — several of them boys he’d offended against or continued to abuse at Beaumaris Primary and in St Kilda Little League settings. The group would go on to win a hat-trick of St Kilda Junior League premierships between 1974 and 1976. “The two years that followed  were extraordinary, in that he recruited the best boys to win him a junior premiership, which we did,” one player says. “He had the power of the Little League to use as leverage to entice us and obviously manipulate who he needed to. “He had key Cats players and they got to play Little League all the time. Others didn’t get that. They got one or two games maybe. Our parents didn’t want it to happen, but we begged them and said, ‘Come on, it’ll be easy for us to get to the St Kilda Little League games’. Ray said, ‘I’ll pick them up, I’ll take them, I’ll bring them home’.” Darrell Ray’s era appeared to be over after his Moorabbin Cats won the 1976 flag.(Supplied) But not every boy made it home promptly. A player from the 1975-77 St Kilda Little League seasons says the cost of his participation was a night he’s never been able to put out of his mind. After months of grooming, including trips to bowling alleys and racetracks, he says one night Ray drove him to the Saints’ training ground and sexually assaulted him under the cloak of darkness – abuse that he says left him with anxiety and depression. Shifting in his seat as he tells his story, unable to make eye contact as the words tumble out, the part that suddenly strikes him as surreal is that 45 years later, he’s still a St Kilda fan. ‘He’s gone to London’ Perhaps the strangest aspect of Darrell Ray’s story is that neither his victims nor anyone involved in the Saints Little League and St Kilda Junior League in the 1970s seems to know exactly how or why Ray was removed from the scene late in 1977. Urban myths about a major incident abound, but the specific details and characters always differ. The clearest recollection of any former St Kilda Little League player is that he arrived at training one night and was told that Ray had gone to London. “I said, ‘Is he going to come back and coach?'”, he says. “I was very naive. They said, ‘No, he’s going to be away for a while’.” A rival coach summarises many murkier recollections: “He just vanished off the scene.” The Moorabbin Cats and their 1974 pennant.(Moorabbin Standard) Until the end, Ray’s teams were vying for premierships. The St Kilda Little League side of 1977 made the preliminary final against Essendon, but lost at the MCG. Another 1977 player remembers the aftermath clearly, because he was the last passenger in a car driven by Ray’s offsider Gary Mitchell. “We’d just lost and he wasn’t very happy,” the player recalls. “He said he’d drive me back to the Moorabbin Cats ground.” The boy engaged in idle chit chat. “When I said something about my parents being at the races, he said, ‘What? Nobody is home at your place?’ He came to life.” Panicking, the boy told Mitchell that only his father was at the races, and that his mother was waiting at home. Mitchell’s mood again altered rapidly. Yanking on the steering wheel and abandoning his detour, he resumed the original route and dumped the boy at the Widdop Crescent Oval, before speeding away. Mitchell had always cut an unusual figure at games in those years. The mother of one player remembers that her husband was forever querying Mitchell’s mere presence, let alone his role of driving boys to games. Mitchell was not a player or coach of any note, he lived 25 minutes away in North Dandenong, and he’d stopped teaching at Ray’s Beaumaris Primary School in 1973. Convicted paedophiles Gary Mitchell (left) and Darrell Ray were not only teaching colleagues, but brothers-in-law. By the late 1970s, some parents questioned Mitchell’s presence around Ray’s football teams.(Supplied) Others knew one reason why the pair had stayed in such close touch and could often be seen together around town: in 1975, Mitchell had married Ray’s sister. Perhaps that threw some parents off the scent, because it seems unlikely that any would have let their son step inside Mitchell’s car on a Saturday morning if they’d known of his depravity. In a comprehensive psychological report presented alongside decades-worth of child sexual abuse convictions in 2018, when Mitchell pleaded guilty to charges of buggery and indecent assault against boys at a school where he had worked, the Melbourne County Court heard that Mitchell demonstrated “a degree of disturbance in personality functioning, wherein he presents with mixed avoidant, compulsive and anti-social features” and “a moderate personality disorder – that is, having moderate impairments of personality functioning with respect to intimacy, empathy and disinhibition.” ‘I thought it was just me’ Among those left behind, there are recurring sentiments about St Kilda Little League of the 1960s and ’70s: frustration that nothing was done to protect children from a paedophile ring, sorrow for the lives that were ruined by the abuse, and something close to rage at the institutional and justice system failings that allowed Ray and Mitchell to offend for so long. Courts are only one thing. Few survivors can have taken much heart from sport’s sideways glance from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which heard the stories of just four survivors of abuse in sporting contexts, and among the major sporting codes, nothing at all from the AFL or its clubs. Yet who, if not football clubs, contained more of the classic preconditions of predation — young boys eager to please, men in positions of untrammelled power, distracted or absent parents. All this overlain with a view of club sport at peak 1970s naïveté, as innocent, safe and wholesome. In the 1960s, the Little League quickly established itself as a feature of a day at the football and would run for more than 30 years.(Football record: Gary Lewis) A month on from Rod Owen’s disclosure that he was sexually molested by St Kilda Little League manager Albert Briggs, St Kilda is yet to make a decision on Briggs’ life membership status at the club. Last week, the ABC asked St Kilda Football Club CEO Matt Finnis why the decision had taken so long, and why Briggs’ fellow former St Kilda timekeeper, Trevor Gravell, who is a convicted paedophile, also remains a life member of the club. The ABC does not suggest that Gravell had any involvement with the club’s Little League team or its players. In a statement attributed to a club spokesperson, St Kilda said: “The Club currently has two matters involving life memberships which the Board has referred to its Integrity Committee, chaired by retired Supreme Court judge, The Hon. David Ashley AM. The Club’s rules set out procedures for the awarding and termination of Club life memberships and the Board is following these rules and relevant legal principles in accordance with the advice of the Integrity Committee.” Albert Briggs (left) and Trevor Gravell (right) are both still life members of the St Kilda Football Club.(St Kilda Football Club Annual Report) In the absence of an institutional reckoning, some survivors continue to unfairly blame themselves. “It doesn’t matter what anyone says, at the end of the day, any one of us could have screamed from the rooftops,” one says. “Maybe no-one would have listened, but we could have tried. I sort of have to live with the fact that I didn’t.” Others worry that many more like them continue to endure silent misery, neither capable nor confident enough to report their abuse, thus increasing the likelihood they’ll never be able to recover from it. Some want better education for parents to look for the common warning signs of child sex abuse victims — aggression, anger, anxiety, violence, anti-authoritarian and risk-taking behaviour — and a culture in which more people to feel comfortable telling their stories. “Sadly, something I’ve discovered out of all of this is that people have difficulty dealing with trauma,” one survivor says. “They don’t want to know about it. They don’t like reading about it. They naturally try to remove themselves from anything related to it. Because it is difficult to comprehend and deal with. “Probably in Rod Owen’s case, as in my case, you’re silenced by your fear. But that perpetuates the problem. It’s a very difficult subject matter to talk about but it’s got to be discussed and dealt with. Otherwise, Ray, Mitchell and others win out of it all, ultimately.” Many survivors of Darrell Ray’s abuse were inspired to confront the past after former St Kilda star Rod Owen told the ABC his story.(ABC Sport: Russell Jackson) There is, however, now strength in numbers. “This is bigger than I had ever thought it could be,” one former Saints Little League player says. “I thought it was just me. You couldn’t write this shit, could you? If you were writing a soap opera, people would laugh at it.” Trevor Foster’s sister Leigh lives with the heartache of those whose loved ones fell within the cohort of ‘affected’ kids. In her youth, she wondered about the ‘coincidence’ or otherwise in the behaviours of her late brother Trevor and so many of his peers. Now she just laments what was lost. Trevor Foster’s friends and loved ones continue to lament the loss of a quirky and kind man.(Supplied) “You think of all the impact these guys could have had on the world,” she says. “How it’s ended up for so many of them, you can’t just say ‘He was just a loose cannon’. Now that all this has come out properly, what Trevor had to deal with through his whole life, I just think how tragic it was for him.” She is certain that Trevor would have at least taken heart in being part of something: “For me, it’s always been about Trevor. But now that this is starting to come out, it’s like far out, there are other people out there. Some guys are still living with this. “My memory of Trevor, even though I knew him his whole life, is that cool, blond-haired kid who everyone liked. And yeah, his demise was long, but in essence, he was still just that kid. “For someone to have done the stuff Darrell Ray did to Trevor and obviously countless others, it would just be nice that he’s a part of a group that… Not that it makes any difference for him, but his voice is getting out there. “I know if Trevor was still living, this would bring him so much… not pleasure… not satisfaction even…” She keeps searching for the word that Trevor might have used, but it never arrives.
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