It’s the heartbreaking story of a gifted and widespread footballer, her tragic demise and the investigation right into a household’s complaints about what they consider precipitated her emotional anguish.
Maddy Cusack’s demise in September despatched shockwaves all through the game and plunged Sheffield United right into a state of mourning for his or her longest-serving participant. As her dad and mom, David and Deborah, tried to get by way of their first Christmas with out their eldest daughter, followers launched a petition to retire her No 8 shirt as a everlasting tribute.
“She fell in love with Sheffield United, the followers and town of Sheffield,” Deborah advised a memorial service in October. “Maddy grew to become Miss Sheffield United and adored each minute of it. This was her house, the place she envisioned she would grasp up her boots in the future.”
Cusack began enjoying soccer on the age of 5 and hung out within the junior setups at Chesterfield, Nottingham Forest and Leicester Metropolis earlier than being taken on by Aston Villa and representing England’s under-19s. An brisk, tough-tackling midfielder, she went on to play for Birmingham Metropolis and Leicester Metropolis earlier than shifting to Sheffield, the place she grew to become the group’s first ladies’s participant to make greater than 100 appearances.
That every part ended so tragically has precipitated immeasurable damage for Cusack’s household. It additionally led to the membership commissioning an investigation, on the household’s request, and an announcement from Bramall Lane shortly earlier than Christmas that “there was no proof of any wrongdoing”.
What has by no means been reported, nevertheless, is what compelled the household to make an official grievance and what, they consider, led a beforehand completely happy 27-year-old to take her personal life.
Their grievance stretched to seven pages and greater than 3,350 phrases. It was written by David, an skilled solicitor, and particulars a variety of grievances regarding Cusack’s final seven months on the membership — coinciding with the appointment of Jonathan Morgan because the group’s supervisor.
“There have been various components that troubled her ultimately, however all of them spring from the connection with JM (Morgan),” the grievance states. “As she confided to us (her household), each difficulty had its origin in JM’s appointment. We all know she would nonetheless be with us had he not been appointed. Her textual content messages and conversations assist this.”
The allegations had been critical sufficient for the membership to rearrange an exterior inquiry that concluded on December 15 with the chief government, Stephen Bettis, writing to Cusack’s household to substantiate no disciplinary motion was being taken in opposition to Morgan.
Morgan, who had beforehand been Cusack’s supervisor at Leicester, vehemently denied treating her unfavourably and has been vindicated by a nine-week inquiry. His account was that he had tried to be a constructive affect in her life and that it was utterly unfounded to counsel their working relationship had contributed to her emotional anguish and, finally, demise.
RIP Maddy. A real skilled till the top. You can be missed by many 🕊️🕊️ https://t.co/6AcCNg5Emo
— JM (@jonnojmorgan) September 21, 2023
In a letter to the household, Bettis said that not one of the individuals interviewed for the inquiry had “heard or witnessed any bullying or inappropriate behaviour” in the direction of Cusack or some other participant. He did, nevertheless, acknowledge that Morgan’s behaviour “divided opinion” among the many individuals interviewed. Some discovered him supportive and caring. Others described Morgan’s fashion of administration as “isolating some gamers, fairly authoritative and intimidating”. Based on the household, that was very a lot Cusack’s expertise as she reported it to them.
In opposition to that backdrop, the English Soccer Affiliation (FA) has subsequently begun to collect proof forward of a doable investigation of its personal. The gamers’ union, the Skilled Footballers’ Affiliation, is known to be supporting the household and, with the matter ongoing, it additionally raises a wider debate that goes to the very coronary heart of what’s acceptable in a soccer setting and what’s not.
It has additionally transpired that Morgan, appointed in February final yr, has been the topic of two earlier complaints, unrelated to Cusack, together with one from one other United participant in the direction of the top of final season. The membership is not going to focus on its end result.
The opposite case concerned a grievance being lodged in opposition to Morgan whereas he was teaching Leicester, the place considered one of his sisters, Jade, was the final supervisor, one other, Holly, was the group captain, and their father, Rohan, was the chairman. The grievance, it’s understood, associated to alleged bullying and exclusion and was handled, for essentially the most half, by Jade. The participant in query left the membership after accepting a monetary settlement in relation to her contract, with the grievance not being taken additional. Morgan denied any wrongdoing in each instances.
In Cusack’s case, the household’s grievance alleged:
- Cusack left Leicester in 2019 as a result of she was satisfied Morgan, then the supervisor, had taken a private dislike to her and felt worn down by his behaviour.
- Morgan went on to handle Burnley’s ladies’s group and, when she performed in opposition to them for United, he known as her a “psycho” when she ran close to his dugout. She was not unduly bothered as a result of he was not her supervisor however noticed it as additional proof that he disliked her.
- His appointment at Sheffield United left her feeling anxious about their historical past however hopeful, as a longtime first-team participant, that they might put it behind them. As a substitute, he dropped her from the beginning line-up, complaining she was chubby, and allegedly advised different gamers about their earlier points, which she felt created the impression she was tough to handle.
- She feared historical past was repeating itself however stayed at Sheffield United due to her affinity with the membership and all the buddies she had made. She had purchased a home, taken jobs in United’s neighborhood and advertising and marketing departments, and loved her happiest instances in soccer at Bramall Lane.
- She discovered it obscure the problems with Morgan as a result of she had by no means encountered any battle from earlier managers and was widespread inside the membership.
- Cusack grew to become unwell on account of the nervousness it created, leading to her shifting again in along with her dad and mom, being prescribed medicine and asking the membership’s physician at first of September about counselling.
The grievance was delivered to the membership on September 27, per week after Cusack’s physique was discovered at her dad and mom’ home in Derbyshire. An inquest has been opened into her demise and the police say there aren’t any suspicious circumstances.
Based on the household’s proof, Cusack had complained throughout quite a few conversations about feeling marginalised and encountering “private antipathy” from Morgan in what has been described by some former team-mates as a tricky, divisive and infrequently hard-faced setting. This had a devastating affect on her psychological well being, her household say, breaking her confidence at a time when she had the pressures of juggling her enjoying profession with working for the membership as a advertising and marketing government.
The membership took the grievance critically sufficient to nominate Dennis Shotton, a retired detective superintendent from Northumbria police, to supervise an investigation.
Shotton, whose police profession concerned engaged on the Raoul Moat manhunt after the taking pictures of three individuals, together with a policeman, all through the north east of England in 2010, was introduced in due to his position as an investigator for Safecall, a Sunderland-based firm specialising in whistleblowing disputes.
In his correspondence with the household, he misspelt Cusack’s first and second names, introducing her as “Madeline Cussack”, in addition to getting different names blended up and making various fundamental errors. Shotton interviewed David Cusack for a witness assertion however didn’t document what was mentioned after which twice referred to him in his write-up as a membership worker somewhat than Maddy’s father.
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Shotton spoke to 18 witnesses, together with present members of the group. Every was assured their identities wouldn’t be made public, which means they might communicate extra brazenly.
Nevertheless, the choice course of has left the Cusack household with various unanswered questions. Shotton, it’s mentioned, was given the main points of a detailed confidante to Cusack who had no connections to the membership and, for causes unexplained, he didn’t contact the related individual. He’s additionally mentioned to not have contacted a number of the gamers the household really useful.
“I can verify that Safecall carried out an investigation on behalf of Sheffield United,” says Safecall director Tim Smith. “We now have no additional remark at the moment.”
Shotton’s inquiry checked out various particular incidents, dismissing all of them, however the scope of his investigation stays unclear. The household argues that it appears to have targeted an excessive amount of on what could possibly be corroborated by witnesses somewhat than their very own accounts of the quite a few conversations they’d with Cusack and that it doesn’t sufficiently keep in mind how she considered Morgan and the impact it had on her. One former team-mate remembers Cusack by no means being herself, seeming anxious and withdrawn, when Morgan was round.
The household reject the decision and, having been advised there isn’t a attraction course of, they’ve requested the FA to hold out a follow-up investigation, considering a larger want for transparency. The membership’s admission that Morgan could possibly be seen as intimidating, in addition to isolating sure gamers, feels notably related when this, in response to the household, matches in with what Cusack used to inform them.
Bettis reiterated his sympathies for the household’s loss and mentioned the membership wished to assist the charity basis that had been arrange in Cusack’s identify, elevating cash to assist younger, feminine footballers. However he additionally made it clear that the household wouldn’t be allowed to see Shotton’s report. Nor will it’s launched publicly, which means there isn’t a manner for them to seek out out what testimony was put ahead, who was interviewed and, maybe simply as importantly, who was not.
Though the household have declined to remark, this has been notably onerous for them to simply accept: that they might ask for the membership to carry an investigation however then be denied the precise to know what precisely is in that investigation, even on an anonymised foundation.
Individuals who knew Cusack nicely discuss an all-round athlete who was dedicated to health and wholesome residing and stored herself in supreme form, going again to her days as a gifted runner with Derbyshire’s Amber Valley & Erewash Athletics Membership.
In 2021, she employed her personal energy and conditioning coach, Luke Ashton, who has labored with Leicester Metropolis and Mansfield City, and he remembers her check outcomes being larger in some classes than the common of the England nationwide group.
“She was phenomenal,” says Ashton. “Everybody is aware of Maddy was a loyal and intensely devoted athlete. Her utility, effort ranges and enthusiasm had been second to none. For her to succeed in out to me when she already had such a demanding schedule simply reveals how devoted she was.”
Morgan denies telling Cusack she was chubby and says he merely knowledgeable her she wanted to enhance her conditioning as a result of the membership’s GPS health checks had proven she was lagging behind most of her team-mates. He says he organized for a specifically tailor-made health programme, considering that she already had a tough schedule holding down two jobs.
Morgan’s place is that he had a traditional and supportive working relationship with Cusack. He denies shouting that Cusack was a “psycho” whereas he was Burnley supervisor, telling the opposite Sheffield United gamers something adverse about her from Leicester, or doing something to go away her with the impression that he disliked her.
Quite the opposite, he says he repeatedly tried to assist Cusack, making her vice-captain and placing her in contact with the membership physician when he suspected she was scuffling with psychological well being points.
A video was submitted to the investigation displaying him and Cusack working collectively, apparently getting on positive, on Could 5.
Morgan says he commonly used to purchase Tesco meal offers (a sandwich, snack and a drink for a set value) as lunch for the gamers, together with Cusack, as a result of there was a time when the membership didn’t present them with meals. He says he campaigned for her to get a pay rise, from an annual wage of £6,000 to £18,000 (now $7,700 to $23,000), when the membership was shifting from a part-time setup to a full-time one and the gamers’ contracts had been being upgraded. This, he says, reveals he didn’t deal with her badly or maintain adverse emotions in the direction of her. It additionally seems that a number of the claims in opposition to him, corresponding to criticising her to team-mates after his appointment in Sheffield, haven’t been corroborated.
There’s, nevertheless, appreciable proof to display why, to make use of the membership’s personal terminology, a number of the individuals giving proof reported that Morgan might depart some gamers feeling remoted and intimidated.
The Athletic has spoken to a number of of Cusack’s former team-mates who speak negatively about their experiences of his administration. Though they didn’t witness any such behaviour in the direction of Cusack, some allege it could possibly be a divisive and typically disagreeable setting during which sure gamers had been favoured by Morgan whereas others had been blanked and, in some instances, virtually utterly frozen out. They are saying they wished to speak — requesting anonymity due to the sensitivities of the case — as a result of they consider it would encourage others to share their experiences.
One former team-mate, Participant A, says she confided in Cusack that she wished to go away the membership due to the supervisor. She and Cusack secretly used jail puns as a type of gallows humour to maintain up their spirits. In the event that they got enjoying time, they joked they had been “on parole”. Morgan was known as the “jail warden”.
One other of Cusack’s former team-mates, Participant B, remembers Morgan getting the job and shortly establishing a powerful relationship with sure gamers, inviting them into his workplace and usually being approachable and amenable. However she remembers seeing a unique aspect to him when it got here to various gamers who had been a bit older on common and handled, she says, in a completely totally different vogue.
“When Jonathan got here in, there was virtually a way of a brand new starting for some individuals. However others weren’t given an opportunity from the minute he stepped by way of the door,” says Participant B.
“He wouldn’t make eye contact. He’d stroll previous within the coaching floor and say nothing. (Gamers had been) getting the chilly shoulder for just about no cause. If he determined he didn’t need you, that was it. He’s not going to provide the time of day, he’s not going to shake your hand, he’s not even going to make eye contact. You don’t have any likelihood.”
Morgan is represented by Tongue Tied Administration and his bio on the corporate’s web site lists “man-management” and “making a constructive setting” amongst his key strengths, in addition to “understanding gamers” and “battle decision”.
Bettis, nevertheless, acknowledges that Morgan’s administration fashion “divided opinion” and that additionally seems to have been the case at his earlier golf equipment.
Many gamers and colleagues noticed him as a constructive chief with likeable attributes and a CV that earned him respect, taking Leicester into the Ladies’s Tremendous League as champions of the second tier in 2020-21.
But one individual — not concerned within the Shotton investigation — remembers being with him at Leicester and discovering the expertise so distressing she would find yourself “crying most days” on her manner house. She, too, has spoken to The Athletic at size in regards to the adverse affect on her life. And, once more, it reveals he might polarise opinion.
“Jonathan Morgan — the best way he was and the tradition he created — is the rationale I’m not in soccer anymore,” she says.
In Cusack’s case, Participant A says she seen her team-mate not appeared as completely happy as she had been below the earlier supervisor, Neil Redfearn. Cusack, she says, had began to “retreat a bit of bit” however tended to deflect questions when requested if she was OK.
“She was not the identical as she was the yr earlier than his (Morgan’s) arrival. I knew she wasn’t a fan (of Morgan). Once we had been advised his appointment was imminent, it was like, ‘Oh, f***, right here we go’. It didn’t take lengthy to understand there have been clearly underlying points as a result of she was a starter for each Sheffield supervisor (beforehand).
“She’d captained when Redfearn was there after which, all of the sudden, to be dropped like that (clicks fingers). She was an skilled 27-year-old with 100 appearances for Sheffield. So why? We had been in a relegation battle — you want all of the expertise and all of the firepower you will get. It simply didn’t make sense… this type of prompt dropping.”
Some gamers, in response to Participant A, appeared to have “disappeared off the face of the earth and never gone again to coaching” as a result of, she assumed, “that was how a lot they hated it”.
She continued: “He’d ignore sure individuals, whereas others would get hugs and excessive fives or lift-shares. For those who had been favored, you had been positive. However in case you weren’t favored, you had been made to really feel, and know, that you just weren’t favored by how he spoke to you, or ignored you, or in case you made one mistake and he was straight down on you.
“I might actually have to drag over on the best way to coaching as a result of I used to be crying so I might wipe my eyes and see the place I used to be driving. I genuinely felt I had no worth, not solely as a participant however as an individual.”
Of Cusack, she added: “There have been so much (of gamers) final season who had been in the identical boat and it might have been any of us. It feels terrible popping out of my mouth, however there have been at the least 4 or 5 gamers who had been on that path and, happily, might escape it.”
Morgan has been reluctant to talk publicly, in response to individuals near him, due to the sensitivities surrounding the case and for worry of it inflicting additional upset for a household who’re, finally, grieving a liked one. He has declined The Athletic’s request for an interview.
As a substitute, his administration firm has been coping with media inquiries on his behalf. He’s mentioned to have discovered it traumatic to be accused and feels vindicated, but not stunned, by Shotton’s findings.
There are, nevertheless, various points arising from this case and, on a wider degree, it does result in a separate debate about a number of the accepted norms in a dressing-room setting and the way soccer, as a office, may be very totally different to different walks of life.
Morgan doesn’t deny that he could possibly be blunt along with his language, together with one dressing-room scene when considered one of his gamers broke down in tears after he recognized, and criticised, her for being guilty for one of many opposition’s targets.
Even the individuals who communicate positively about Morgan describe him as being direct and to the purpose. There have been instances when he might get indignant, in widespread with many soccer managers. Nevertheless, he has all the time maintained that this didn’t contain Cusack, that it was by no means private with anybody, and that it was fairly regular for a supervisor to dish out some harsh phrases if the group had been doing badly.
In loads of instances, there are members of his career, together with some extremely profitable managers, who’re championed for his or her occasional outbursts of mood and authoritarian fashion. Many golf equipment function “bomb squads” for gamers who’ve been frozen out and marginalised. It’s, in some ways, an accepted a part of the soccer trade.
Sheffield United had been within the decrease reaches of the Ladies’s Championship final season, ending eighth in a 12-team league. It was, says Participant B, a difficult marketing campaign in all kinds of the way. “It didn’t really feel like a group any extra. It didn’t really feel like individuals had one another’s backs. Some individuals didn’t know the place they stood, others had been like his (Morgan’s) finest mate and in his workplace on a regular basis.”
Cusack, from a household of Derby County followers, was in her sixth season at Bramall Lane and her reputation may be gauged by the quantity of tributes after her demise. Her household say they’ve been overwhelmed by the general public’s kindness and, having arrange the Maddy Cusack Basis in November, the response of United’s followers, specifically.
“Those that knew Maddy nicely will likely be conscious she had no long-standing psychological well being points or troubles,” learn a social media submit from the muse. “Maddy was a happy-go-lucky, carefree lady with every part to dwell for and, by final Christmas (2022), could possibly be described as being at her happiest. This all modified progressively from February.”
Some individuals will inevitably ask why, if she grew to become so sad, she didn’t attempt to discover one other membership.
Cusack, who was out and in of Morgan’s group, signed a one-year contract on the finish of June forward of the membership’s transition to a full-time operation. She did that, in response to her household, as a result of she had settled in Sheffield, didn’t need to depart a membership she liked, and had the monetary pressures and obligations of being a house owner.
Her household say they’d quite a few conversations along with her in regards to the affect her work life was having on her confidence and well being. The household’s grievance says Cusack and her mom mentioned most of the points about Morgan typically. Maddy determined, they are saying, to not do something that may danger upsetting her supervisor. One colleague, it’s mentioned, was conscious of how Cusack felt and advised her to “kill him with kindness”.
As a substitute, her demise has left the Cusack household — together with Maddy’s brother, Richard, and sisters, Olivia and Felicia — making an attempt to come back to phrases with what her mom has described as an “unthinkable, unimaginable and insufferable” loss.
Just a few pictures we mirrored on throughout our @itvnews tribute for Maddy earlier at this time.
It by no means mattered the place we had been or what we had been doing. So long as we had been collectively, as a household.. we had been completely happy. ❤️
Moments to final a lifetime, held in our hearts.
— themaddycusackfoundation (@MC8_Foundation) November 9, 2023
Morgan’s sympathisers say that he, too, has suffered and that his household have discovered it extremely tough to see his identify connected to such a heartbreaking story.
This weekend, nevertheless, he will likely be again within the dugout when United, eighth within the Ladies’s Championship, journey to London for an FA Ladies’s Cup fourth-round tie in opposition to Tottenham Hotspur. It will likely be his first look within the dugout since a 1-0 victory over Lewes on September 17, sitting out 11 fixtures whereas the investigation was underway.
In an announcement revealed on United’s web site on December 18, the membership introduced the investigation had been accomplished and, with out mentioning Morgan as soon as, mentioned they wished “to extend the training and improvement alternatives for all employees round language and tradition, welfare and psychological well being consciousness”.
The membership had been “all the time searching for methods to evolve and can replicate on the outcomes and suggestions arising from the investigation to think about how processes and insurance policies could also be improved”.
What has not been made clear is whether or not these suggestions confer with Morgan particularly or simply the membership normally. Neither is that more likely to change given United is not going to let anyone know, together with the household.
That, nevertheless, is unlikely to be the top of the matter.
David Matthews, the FA’s senior integrity investigations supervisor, has already began interviewing Cusack’s shut kinfolk, in addition to visiting the membership, as a part of the governing physique’s evidence-gathering course of. If that results in a brand new investigation, it could take a wider scope than Shotton’s inquiry and study Morgan’s time at Leicester and Burnley.
Even then, nevertheless, it’s unclear whether or not United will cross over the main points of their very own report back to the FA’s investigators.
The membership have been requested by The Athletic, amongst various questions regarding the case, however declined to reply apart from referring again to their earlier assertion. “The impartial investigation commissioned by the membership on the request of, and in cooperation with, Maddy’s household concluded in December,” mentioned a membership spokesman. “The dear enter supplied by the important thing witnesses put ahead by Maddy’s household and by the membership was completely reviewed and no proof of wrongdoing was discovered.”
Within the meantime, the membership’s chaplain, Delroy Corridor, has resigned from his position. Amongst various wide-ranging complaints, Corridor knowledgeable the membership that he felt ignored by various individuals in senior positions after he, an skilled counsellor, tried to assist employees deal with their grief in mild of Cusack’s demise.
To contact the Samaritans, go to samaritans.org or name 116 123 within the UK, and to succeed in CALM (Marketing campaign In opposition to Dwelling Miserably) go to thecalmzone.web or ring 0800 58 58 58
(Prime picture: Jacques Feeney/The FA/Getty Photographs; design: Eamonn Dalton)