A FORMER professional footballer from Wrexham has spoken about his key role in a hard-hitting major storyline on one of the nation's favourite soaps.

Ex-Crewe Alexandra footballer Steve Walters, who managed Penycae FC and Rhos Aelwyd, has told Leader reporter Rory Sheehan about working with the producers of Channel 4's teen soap Hollyoaks on a plot which mirrors some of his own experiences of child abuse.

Less than two years ago Steve established The Offside Trust after revealing in an interview with The Guardian that he was subjected to abuse while in the Crewe Alexandra FC youth system in the 1980s.

It helped lift the lid on a hidden scandal striking right to the heart of the game, and instantly prompted a major drive towards improving safeguarding and child safety at all levels of football right across he country.

Steve was among those who spoke out about the club's former youth coach Barry Bennell who was jailed at Liverpool Crown Court in February after being found guilty of 50 offences of abusing boys between 1979 and 1990.

The story in the Chester-based soap sees young character Ollie Morgan, played by Aedan Duckworth, groomed by Nathan Sussex's character, football coach Buster Smith who abuses his position of trust.

Another character, Brody Hudson, played by Adam Woodward, also comes forward to reveal he too was abused by Buster as a teenager.

Steve said he was keen to offer guidance with the plot, and that it was positive that the subject had been introduced on an already popular show with an established younger fan-base to encourage discussion between youngsters and parents.

He added that he was pleased it had been met with a positive response from viewers and that the chance to help others made it worthwhile.

"We are starting to win the battle", he said.

"There have been massive improvements since November 2016 but safeguarding and awareness is still a massive issue in football especially for youngsters."

Steve became the youngest first-team player in Crewe’s history when he made his Football League debut in 1988 aged 16, set up the trust alongside fellow survivors, former Crewe team-mate Andy Woodward and ex-Manchester City youth player Chris Unsworth.

Also a coach with Buckley Town and Airbus UK Broughton, Steve, who has lived in and run a business in Wrexham for more than 20 years, said he became involved with the TV soap through his role as an ambassador for the Survivors Manchester charity.

He said: "Duncan Craig, chief executive of Survivors Manchester was involved as he was in the David Platt male rape storyline in Coronation Street.

"I went to the studio, met the researchers and they convinced me straight away to get involved myself. I visited the studio three of four times and read through all the scripts with them, and talked about my experiences and some of those of the other lads.

"I've yet to see any negative remarks about the storyline, even on social media, and all the actors involved have received positive and heartfelt messages.

"Lots of parents have contacted me to say their kids have been talking about it in the playground which is brilliant because it keeps everyone aware.

"I've been contacted by someone involved in football in their late 20's, who has come forward to tell their story because of what they have seen on Hollyoaks and just that one person coming forward and being able to help them makes it all worthwhile.

"It gives you the strength to keep going.

"What's happened to us (Steve and his fellow survivors), we can't do anything about but we can help protect others and that is what Survivors Manchester and soaps can help address.

"Since November 2016, especially in the Premier League where clubs have the money to put safeguarding in place, it has improved ten-fold, but there is still a lot of work to be done.

"It is much more difficult now for predators to be involved in football at Premier League level, but not at grassroots.

"The response we have had locally in North Wales football has been fantastic from day one, and it would be good if we had even more support - either on social media, or clubs taking on Offside Trust advertising boards.

"More importantly, just be aware that there are still a hell of a lot of predators around, so parents and guardians need to be wary and vigilant - that is a key message."

For more information about and to support The Offside Trust visit - www.theoffsidetrust.com/