PAPHOS - Paphos football club AEP were counting their blessings on Wednesday after being informed that they almost signed on a footballer who was kicked out of his club in the summer because he was a convicted child sex offender.
Former Hearts defender Craig Thomson arrived in the summer in Paphos to tryout for second division side AEP and despite being initially unveiled as the club’s first new signing, coach Yiannis Yiangoudakis eventually decided to omit the player from his squad.
The near miss prompted a response from the commissioner for children's rights in Cyprus who said that it served as warning to the government that they must take the protection of children’s rights against predators more seriously.
Thomson had been highly regarded as a promising player for Hearts and Scottish football but his career hit the ropes in the summer of 2011 when he was convicted of indecent behaviour towards two girls aged 12 and 14, and placed on the sex offenders register for five years.
On Wednesday, AEP chairman Christos Glykis told The Cyprus Daily that the player did not sign a contract with the club despite media claims earlier in the summer.
“This player did come on trial here but we did not sign him”, confirmed Glykis who admitted not knowing about the 22-year-old’s troubled past. “To be honest with you, his character was a bit off and he simply didn’t fit in with the rest of the squad. He was given permission to tryout with another team but that too didn’t work out. Today [Wednesday], I paid for his ticket to return to Edinburgh and, as far as I know, he is on his way back to Scotland”.
During the court hearing in Edinburgh two years ago, the former Scotland under-21 international admitted ‘lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour’ towards the two young girls whilst also admitting ‘showing them male genitalia, asking the older one for sex and engaging them in sexual chat’.
Newspapers in Scotland had claimed that Thomson had sent lewd pictures of himself to underage girls and asked them to reciprocate. They also claimed that he had known the 12-year-old from the age of six.
Thomson had referred to 'this unfortunate affair' in his website apology.
He was also fined £4,000 and quickly sent out on loan to two Lithuanian football clubs – one of which was owned by Russian owner Vladimir Romanov who also owns Hearts.
Hearts initially appeared unsure how to deal with the player, and Romanov had released a bizarre statement blaming outsiders for trying to undermine the club.
After pressure mounted on the club by supporters and sponsors – including major backer MacB Water Company, Hearts announced this summer that he had been released. Thomson went on trial for the Paphos club barely a month later as a free agent.
AEP are currently in financial trouble with town mayor Savvas Vergas this week calling for a rescue committee to be formed to save the club from bankruptcy.
Koursoumba calls for government action
The near-signing of the footballer only reinforced fears by Cyprus Commissioner for Children's Rights, Leda Koursoumba who told The Cyprus Daily that the Craig Thomson affair in Paphos tapped into a general, more wider problem throughout the island.
“We cannot lay the blame on this football club or even the police [for the player arriving on trial at AEP]. This is an issue that needs to be addressed at government level and at the House Legal Affairs Committee because there are no laws, like the ones in the UK and other European countries, in which sex offenders are properly monitored. There are no laws to protect children from predators or potential predators in Cyprus and that is something that I am continuously trying to challenge.”
Koursoumba went on to say that it was high time that the Cypriot government took a firm stand on this issue outlining the need to enforce the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.
“It is especially vital that people that have been convicted of sex offences against minors are kept away from areas where they may come into contact with young children”, added Koursoumba. “Swimming pools and sports clubs are such areas where they must be kept away.”
It is estimated that in 70% to 85% of cases, the abuser is somebody the child knows and trusts. Child sexual violence can take many forms: sexual abuse within the family circle, child pornography and prostitution, corruption, solicitation via Internet and sexual assault by peers.
Another troubled import from Scotland
It is not the first time that a footballer with a seemingly sinister past arrived in Cyprus from the Scottish football league.
Back in 2001, German forward Jens Paeslack arrived at AEL in January after a disastrous loan spell at St. Mirren from German club Karlsruher. Paeslack, who is now retired and whose last role was manager of German lower league side Germania Schnelsen in 2011, was forced out of the club after it was alleged that he was stealing from his teammates.
According to the Scottish Daily Record, Paeslack took a ₤2,500 watch from St Mirren colleague Graham Fenton and cash from the club's French goalie Ludovic Roy.
He was finally confronted by Love Street security guards after being caught red-handed rifling through another player's clothing by a team-mate.
The German was tackled by security staff and police were called in - but he was never charged due to a lack of evidence.
“The security boys had no doubt it was him - and he was never seen again. He just walked out and jumped on a plane out of Scotland”, commented Fenton at the time.
Paeslack flew out of Scotland within hours, according to the newspaper, and headed for Cyprus where he immediately signed for AEL. He went on to make 13 appearances for the Limassol club scoring twice before leaving in the summer.