Wigan Athletic cult hero Paul Scharner has opened up about how he was horrifically bullied at the beginning of his football career.
Known for his crazy hair cuts and fur coats, Scharner enjoyed two spells at Wigan Athletic, famously winning the FA Cup in 2013.
He came through the ranks at Austria Vienna, where he was subject to vile abuse as a young footballer.
And he admits the torment left a mental scar.
“This bullying has left a terrible mark on me,” he told Sport1. “Why should I let myself be tortured, and why do people have to subjugate a young guy? We are not animals. I would have run amok the next day had my advisor not urged me to keep quiet for the sake of my career.
“I had no chance against 10 men. I could not protect myself.
“They smashed my glasses, bound my hands and feet with tape, shoved me face down on to a mattress and sat on me.
“I could hardly breathe, fighting back only made things worse – maybe I should have carried pepper spray on me. They smeared lots of black shoe polish over my bare backside, and beat me with flip-flops.
“Hearing my team-mates laughing only humiliated me even further, once they finished they even shaved my hair. I got off lightly as I didn’t get a tube shoved up my anus as well.”
The former Austrian international joined Wigan in 2006, scoring the winning goal on his debut against Arsenal in the League Cup semi-final at the DW Stadium.
Scharner spent four years at the club, departing to join West Brom in 2010, after making more than a century of appearances for Latics.
After a two year stay with the Baggies, and a short spell in Germany with Hamburger SV, the fans’ favourite returned to Wigan on loan.
Speaking for the first time about his early experiences, he admits being bullied affected his ability to connect with his colleagues.
“I reacted by retreating into my shell, and found it hard to form human relationships with people in football,” he said.
“My coach later urged me to go for a drink with the people who had tortured me. It was absolute madness, and of course I refused.”
Scharner insists the Austrian FA should have raised more awareness of the problem with there being several cases of sexual assault in sport in the country.
He added: “I would never ill-treat a teammate because of what happened to me. But this physical oppression takes place to show young players where they stand in their club’s hierarchy.”