Survivors of the harrowing child abuse scandal which blighted football throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s have recounted their experiences in new BBC documentary series Football’s Darkest Secret.
The programme tells the story of the survivors of the pedophile coaches who took advantage of young, vulnerable boys at junior football clubs around the country.
In jaw-dropping scenes, footballers including the former Tottenham and England player Paul Stewart speak about their experiences, recounting how they were raped and abused over a period of four years.
Paul and others speak about being groomed by disgraced football coach Barry Bennell while at White Hill FC, a junior team based in Manchester. Bennell was sentenced in 2018 for a total of 50 offences against 12 boys and jailed for 31 years.
Speaking in the documentary, survivor Gary Cliffe recounted how he and another boy were made to sleep in their coaches’ bedroom, where they were raped.
‘It was me and another boy either side of him. He’d take his shorts and pants down and would be attempting to masturbate me,’ Gary said.
‘He would make me put my hand on his penis and make me masturbate him. The other boy was at the other side and the same thing would be happening to him at the same time. There was a lot of oral abuse as well, with both boys in the bed.’
Gary added: ‘Something died inside and you feel a kind of aching within yourself. But the easiest thing in the world is to say nothing. I did not have the knowledge or words to challenge it. I didn’t really know what was going on.’
Other former footballers including Andy Woodward, David White, Ian Ackley and all speak bravely about their experiences in Football’s Darkest Secret, and it was important for director Daniel Gordon that the documentary was told from the survivors’ point of view.
Speaking about the first hand accounts of abuse in the series, Daniel told Metro.co.uk: ‘It’s harrowing. It’s very real and it is very honest. I think once they took the decision to take part, they knew this was their chance to tell their story.
‘We spent an awful lot of time with no cameras, just research, meeting up and talking, making them comfortable,’ Daniel said.
‘It’s always been a survivor led film, and we were guided by them as to what they wanted to talk about. By the time we sat down for our interview, they were ready.’
Daniel, who made the film over a four-year period after the story first broke in 2016, went on to say: ‘The fact that this abuse went on for years and years did shock me, even though I knew that it happened. Hearing stories of two boys in a bed with their coach – that shocks me. It’s this incessant behaviour of these offenders. It’s quite mind boggling in a disgusting way.
‘The men had total control over the children. It’s difficult when you look at these guys being interviewed in the modern day. They look like strong men, and then you see the photos of them as children, and you realise what they were like.’
The three-part series also follows the investigation into former Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins and George Ormond, a youth coach connected to Newcastle United.
Football’s Darkest Secret begins next Monday at 9pm on BBC One. The series will then be available to watch on iPlayer.