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'I've Got So Much Anger Towards Everything That's Happened' - Sexually Abused Footballer Speaks Out

'I've Got So Much Anger Towards Everything That's Happened' - Sexually Abused Footballer Speaks Out
By Conall Cahill Updated

Andy Woodward, the former Crewe Alexandra, Bury and Sheffield United footballer who has been speaking in recent days about the horrific childhood abuse he suffered at the hands of football coach Barry Bennell while he was at Crewe, appeared on 'Off the Ball' last night and talked to Joe Molloy about the effect the abuse has had on his life and why he has chosen to speak out about it.

Bennell has served three prison sentences for offences involving young boys - four years in 1994 in Florida, nine years in 1998 and two years from 2015 onwards. According to the 'Guardian' Bennell is currently living in Milton Keynes where he is out of jail on license.

Speaking to 'Off the Ball' Woodward admitted he was "drained" by the last week since the interview he conducted with Daniel Taylor in the 'Guardian' was published but admitted that he felt "an element of relief that I'm not on my own now" in light of other victims of Bennell coming out and detailing their own, similar experiences (Paul Stewart, Steve Walters and David White are three other former footballers who have spoken to the paper).

He said that it was emotional when he met Walters in recent days following Walters deciding to speak out, and he told Molloy why he himself had chosen to give the interview.

I couldn't let go of him when I was hugging him because he kept saying 'You've saved me'...I know it's in my heart, it's passion...I want everybody to come out (and share their experiences).

I just thought, 'I'm forty-three. We (Bennell's victims) have got half our (lives) left, I've got to do it now.' And also with my Dad being so poorly, he just said, 'Go and get them...just do it, please.'

Bennell had "immense" power over Woodward and the other boys at the club because he "could end your career in a moment", outlined the 43-year-old. Bennell's intimidation would also manifest in him using nunchucks to illustrate his strength to the boys by getting them to hold out a piece of paper while Bennell hit it and split it in half. And Woodward spoke on 'Off the Ball' of trips late on Christmas Eve into dark areas of Crewe in order to instil "fear" in the boys.

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One of the horrific details of Woodward's story is that Bennell married his sister three years after starting a relationship with her when she was sixteen and Woodward was fourteen. Woodward refused to be drawn on this during the interview, saying it was "too emotional" a topic for him.

But Woodward did speak about the struggles he suffered during his playing days.

When I was playing there was an element of trying to focus away from all the stuff that was going on in my head. I was having panic attacks so often, I was having them on the pitch. It was one game against Gillingham, ten or fifteen minutes in, I had a massive collapse and I thought that was it. I thought, 'That's it, I'm going to die'...I said I'd pulled my hamstring and came off.

Molloy observed that despite his ordeal Woodward didn't appear to have changed what he described as his "soft" nature when he was a boy, but Woodward said this belied the deeper turmoil within him.

I've never been (outwardly) angry, but inside me I've got so much anger towards everything that's happened. But I try and just keep calm and do the right thing...with this (speaking out) I feel like I'm doing the right thing for the right reasons. I survived (at the time) and I've survived all my football.

I'm surviving now, I'm finding it hard but I'm a survivor and I want to see this through, right to the bitter end.

When asked for how long he would devote himself to helping those in a similar position to him Woodward replied "Who knows? It sounds like it's developing quite fast". And while he refused to be drawn on the actions of Crewe Alexandra over the past twenty years he said he was "upset" that the club had taken so long to speak out about the issue.

If they'd just said, 'We have empathy with Andy and Steve,' that would be enough and then they can do all the internal enquiries themselves.

Woodward expressed that with "half my life left" and with the effect he is sure the abuse had on other people's lives he wants to keep campaigning and thinks he has "a bit of energy to think 'I can do this'".

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And he had one final message before the end of the interview.

No matter where you are in life - and we'll all go through troubles - anyone, whether they're footballers or not, that has gone through this horrendous thing, I just hope I've given them a bit of hope as men and boys. That it's OK. I've done it, I've spoken out.

Taylor tweeted yesterday that while eleven people had come forward to the police since Woodward conducted the interview, "many more" had contacted himself, Woodward and Walters.

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Today Dario Gradi, the Crewe director of football, released a statement saying that he "knew nothing of (Bennell's) crimes before he was employed by us".

But Taylor found fault with Gradi's words.

You can listen to the full interview with Andy Woodward on 'Off the Ball' below.


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