Andy Woodward:’ It was the softer, weaker boys he targeted’
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The former professional footballer, who is now 43, is ultimately able to talk publicly about the horrific abuse he suffered from the age of 11 by one of his coaches, in the hope that others will come forward too
It isnt easy sitting opposite Andy Woodward and hearing, close up, the unspeakable horrors of his childhood and the reasons why, at the age of 43, he ultimately feels able to tell his story and free himself from the secret the massive, horrible onu that has shaped his life.
It has been there since the age of 11 when a football-daft child from a family of Manchester United supporters first came to the attention of the coach-and-four, scout and serial paedophile Barry Bennell and it is difficult even to contemplate how much Woodward has suffered before reaching this point where he has offered to waive his anonymity and speak publicly about it for the first time.
He is doing so in the belief there are many others potentially hundreds, he says who are living with their own secrets, dedicated Bennells employment at Crewe Alexandra in the 1980 s and 1990 s and close association in the past with Stoke City and Manchester City, as well as junior teams in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.
Bennell was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1998 after acknowledging 23 specimen charges of sex offences against six boys aged nine to 15. Woodward was among the victims at Crewe and knows of other former pros who were targeted. Many more, he suspects, never built it as professional footballers, whereas his own career, also featuring spells at Bury, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe United, objective at the age of 29 because he was unable to cope with the horrendous aftereffects of what he had to endure.
Woodward had to fake an injury during one game because he was having the various kinds of panic attack that became a regular feature in his career. He has been suicidal on likely 10 occasions. He has spent his professional life combating depression and anxiety, and is haunted by what a man who described himself in legal proceedings as a ogre told him about some of the other victims.
My life has been ruined until persons under the age of 43, Woodward says. But how many others are there? Im 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 nasty fear.
Weve assured with the Jimmy Savile case how people have had the heroism, yet Id say within the football world its even harder to speak out. Only now, at persons under the age of 43, I feel I was in fact live without that secret and that massive, horrible onu. 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 Im still there. I came through the other side. Other people can have that strength.