Three Ex-Professional Footballers Tell Their Stories Of Sexual Abuse
Posted by Featured Articles | Published on November 23, 2016
Here enters a new era for football, one not so gleaming or exciting, more-so dark and sinister. A new dim side of football few will have thought real, one which will taint the sport forever. Something no one should stand for.
If you’re familiar with The Football League, you may, or may not remember Andrew Woodward for his time at clubs such as Crewe Alexandria and Sheffield United. He was a young, budding footballer living the dream of kids and adults alike all over the world. Andrew was working his dream job. But at what cost?
In an intense, football-driven lifestyle, he was picked up on by Crewe Alexandria scout and coach Barry Bennell at the young age of 11. It was something most of us could only ever want, but it was a sacrifice no one could have imagined.
Bennell, who was convicted to nine years in prison in 1998 after admitting to 23 charges of sexual offences against boys aged 9-15, used his line of work and famous associations with big clubs such as Stoke and Manchester City to his sickening advantage, sexually abused Andy Woodward and many others. When asked by The Guardian, Andy opened up:
“But how many others are there? I’m talking about hundreds of children who Barry Bennell cherry-picked for various football teams and who now, as adults, might still be living with that awful fear.
“We’ve seen with the Jimmy Savile case how people have had the courage, yet I’d say within the football world it’s even harder to speak out. Only now, at the age of 43, I feel I can actually live without that secret and that massive, horrible burden. I want to get it out and give other people an opportunity to do the same. I want to give people strength. I survived it. I lost my career, which was a massive thing for me, but I’m still here. I came through the other side. Other people can have that strength.”
“It was the softer, weaker boys Bennell targeted.”
In his career, Andy became used to having panic attacks which would rule him out of games, having to fake injuries, becoming suicidal “on probably 10 occasions”.
Bennell invited Woodward to stay over at his house, having trusted him at first aged 14, Andy agreed:
“It was like a treasure trove, a child’s dream,” Woodward said.
“When you walked through the door there were three fruit machines. He had a pool table. There was a little monkey upstairs in a cage who would sit on your shoulder. He had two Pyrenean mountain dogs. He even kept a wild cat. It was my dream, remember, to be a footballer and it was like he was dropping little sweets towards me: ‘You can stay with me and this is what I can do for you.’ Plus he had a reputation as the best youth coach in the country. So I’d stay at weekends and summer holidays and even take time out of school sometimes. I’d go to all the Crewe matches with him. He liked dark-haired boys.”
When the abuse started, he spoke of both mental and physical blackmail, nunchucks and threats to drop him from the team and be rid of his footballing dream completely were used to silence him. This wasn’t even the worst point either.
In secret, Bennell began seeing Woodward’s sixteen-year-old sister, and, when it became public, even sat and ate Sunday dinner with his family in the house where he’d still try his best to sexually abuse him. Bennell eventually married her.
But now, Andy Woodward isn’t the only one to come out about his abuse, with many claiming it’s just the tip of the iceberg in what could be one of football’s most tainting stories.
His team-mate, Steve Walters, who played at the Footballs Association’s school of excellence, also came out about self-proclaimed ‘monster’ Barry Bennell.
Speaking to the Guardian, he said:
“But I have to let it all out now. It’s the only way. I want closure and I know, for a fact, this is going to help me move on. It’s been unbearable but, just from reading the article from Andy, it already feels like a massive burden off my shoulders. I have to do this, and I just hope it will help bring more people forward, too.
“Before I went to Crewe, I was full of life, full of energy. But it knocked the stuffing out of me. I was a confident, outgoing person but sometimes now I can just go into a shell. I have nightmares sometimes and sleeping problems. My wife tells me how I’ve woken up and, straight away, sat bolt upright. I don’t even know I’m doing it. I can have little periods where I am fine but then something might trigger it off.”
Paul Stewart, ex-Tottenham, Liverpool, Sunderland and Manchester City player, was also abused by a youth coach. The three-time England player claimed he was threatened not to tell anyone about it, with the incentive that “he would kill my mother, father, (and) two brothers if I breathed a word about it.”
Later on in life, he started to struggle the pain, speaking to the Daily Mirror:
“The mental scars led me into other problems with drink and drugs. I know now it was a grooming process. The level of abuse got worse and worse.
“You would not believe how many times I contemplated suicide, even when things were going well”
He spoke of Andy Woodward too and was inspired to tell his story after both he and Steve Walters both became public. It’s a secret he’s been carrying for nearly forty-years.
What we’re staring at here, is one of the most daunting, horrifying parts to football we’ve ever seen. Just like the investigation into the BBC after Jimmy Savile, we could here to see more, and more people coming forward with their experiences of sexual abuse in football.
We should all, however, look up to characters such as Andrew Woodward, Steve Walters, and Paul Stewart, particularly the former.
What Andrew did was bravery beyond what I and many others could possibly imagine, and by coming forward, bringing these horror stories to light, he will have helped many people, not just in football. To have experienced something like what he has, and to talk about it so openly is powerful.
I fully expect the F.A to have a wide-scale investigation about this, and I hope that people affected will emerge better from it.
It’s a dark time for football, one I could never have quite pictured.