The first manager of Manchester United’s women’s team was a special guest at a game at Old Trafford last year and commemorated in the club museum despite being a convicted paedophile.

In the latest controversy to engulf the crisis torn club, it has emerged that Geoff Konopka, who was in charge of United Ladies from 1983 to 2001, visited Old Trafford as a guest for a Women’s Super League (WSL) match against Everton in March last year that was attended by thousands of children.

The match, which United won 3-1 and Konopka attended alongside a former United Ladies player, was watched by a crowd of 20,421 featuring many young girls and was the highest attendance at a WSL match by that stage last season.

Konopka, 79, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2011 and put on the sex offenders’ register for a decade after being convicted of 19 offences of indecent assault and gross indecency against girls aged 16 and 14.

Although Konopka also has an “active suspension” on the Football Association’s safeguarding system which bans him from working or coaching for any team, United celebrated his career and featured him in a display at the club museum at Old Trafford.

The Times reported that United were first alerted to Konopka’s convictions by a number of former players from the United Ladies squad. In emails to United’s safeguarding coordinator, it was reported that they expressed “shock” and “disgust” at seeing Konopka “paraded hand-in-hand with Manchester United” in promotional material published on its website in July.

In an online article hailing United as early champions of women’s football, which was also said to have been published in a printed programme distributed at a match last year, the success of “Konopka’s Reds” was highlighted by the club. Manchester United Ladies was dissolved in 2005 but reformed as Manchester United Women in 2018.

The Times reported that United would initially not take down the article after receiving complaints because they were “still in the fact-finding stage” as they investigated the allegations. In one email, a safeguarding coordinator at the club reportedly said United were unable to find details of Konopka’s criminal convictions.

The complainants were assured by the coordinator that “Geoff is not involved in football with children at the club” and added that an “FA suspension prevents individuals from working and coaching within football and with children”.

The online story that sparked anger was deleted on Tuesday, according to The Times, the day after the newspaper contacted United with conviction information from courts and the police.

United are understood to have investigated suspicions about Konopka but the club had reportedly been unable to ascertain the information itself about his convictions.

In response to the shocking revelations, United said it had been unaware of Konopka’s crimes and expressed “its heartfelt sympathies to the victims and all those affected by these abhorrent crimes”.

All mention of Konopka has been erased from museum displays and United said they would have “no further connection with the individual”. The club also insisted there had been no breaches of its safeguarding obligations and that they had referred the situation “as a matter of urgency” to the relevant legal and football authorities.

In a statement, United said: “Manchester United has recently received information around these convictions, and as a matter of urgency has been in contact with the relevant legal and football authorities to substantiate the facts.

“The club has taken appropriate action after receiving this information and will have no further connection with the individual. Manchester United expresses its heartfelt sympathy to the victims and all those affected by these abhorrent crimes.”

In the now deleted online article, United detailed an “extensive list of trophies they won under Konopka” as well as referencing a manager of the year award.

The article also said that Konopka “in recent years has enjoyed seeing the current United Women side in action” and supplied memorabilia to the stadium museum.

The former players who complained to United are reported to have demanded a public apology from the club for presenting Konopka as the “hero” behind their success and for allowing him to attend a recent women’s game as a guest.

The Times also reported that they had disputed United’s portrayal of how well they were treated and described it as a “misogynistic” and “woman-hating club” that refused to provide them with proper kits during matches or footballs to train with in the 1980s and 1990s.

In one email to the club reportedly from a former United Ladies defender read: “The women’s game is ever evolving and there are a lot of vulnerable girls wanting to pursue their dreams who will be reading and looking at your website and possibly looking at him as a role model. I am sickened and disgusted to see this vile man online.”

The Times reported that Konopka acknowledged that he served prison time for offences he said were “historical” and which took place about 30 years before his sentencing, which would have been shortly before his association with United began.

Konopka was quoted as saying: “I never, ever entered the dressing room without knocking and never entered before I knew that everyone was changed and decent.”

The news is the latest controversy to surround the club. Last month, United abandoned plans to bring Mason Greenwood back into their squad in the face of a fierce public and internal backlash.

Greenwood, 21, was suspended by United after being arrested in January last year following the publication on social media of images and audio clips. In February, charges of attempted rape, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and controlling and coercive behaviour against the striker were dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service in February after key witnesses withdrew and new material came to light. Greenwood denied all the allegations.

United launched an internal investigation and were ready to reintegrate Greenwood before the plans were leaked and triggered a huge public outcry.

United are now engulfed in a fresh alleged domestic violence storm surrounding their Brazil winger Antony, who is accused of assaulting a former girlfriend. Police are currently investigating claims by Gabriela Cavallin, a DJ and influencer. Antony denies the allegations.