PREVIEW: Football's Darkest Secret, BBC One

In a landmark three-part series, the BBC examines historic child abuse which took place in youth football, from the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s, and the culture of silence that surrounded it.



This series examines a cluster of these cases, from Manchester to Newcastle, Crewe to Southampton, in which coaches and scouts connected to top football clubs abused their positions of power to prey on vulnerable young boys - and got away with it for decades.


Many survivors were shamed into silence until one former player, Andy Woodward, chose to speak out publicly. His decision to waive his anonymity in November 2016 would give others the courage to confront their own pasts, but no one could have predicted the sheer scale of what would follow. More than 800 victims have since come forward, with 340 football clubs implicated and 300 suspects identified.



The series is the definitive account of this dark chapter in English football and the ensuing attempts to seek justice decades later. Through archive footage and testimonials, the story is told by survivors, their families, police officers, coaches and journalists. Together, they chart the abuse and its aftermath as some survivors rise to footballing fame whilst others walk away from the game - all deeply affected in their own way and all carrying a painful secret.


Going behind the scenes of several high-profile criminal trials, the narrative follows the survivors as they confront questions around how this abuse was able to continue undetected for so long. The series aims to shine a light on the damaging ripple effect caused by child sexual abuse and offers a unique insight into the way it impacts survivors and their families - from that first time the abuse takes place, right through the course of their lives. The experience is as painful as it is cathartic.



Episode One In November 2016, former footballer Andy Woodward came forward with a shocking tale of abuse that he suffered at the hands of his youth coach, Barry Bennell. In the storm that followed, hundreds and hundreds of men would make allegations against hundreds of their childhood coaches.



Part one in the series begins with Andy’s momentous revelation, before going back in time to the 1970s, to hear from former players Paul Stewart and David White as they describe growing up in Manchester with dreams of becoming footballers. Talented young players, they are soon picked up by respective local talent-spotters Barry Bennell and Frank Roper. It’s the beginning of the nightmare for them - and many other survivors.


We chart the years of abuse during their early adolescence before following them as they try to pursue their footballing dreams. Whether it’s Steve Walters starring as a youngster at Crewe, David White playing for Man City, or Paul Stewart scoring in the FA Cup Final for Spurs, they all feel they couldn’t enjoy their career highs because of the heavy burden of the mental scars they were carrying. The film ends with the news that the police are racing against the clock to bring charges against Bennell, while another abuser’s name has emerged, this time in the South of England.


The full series will be available as a boxset on BBC iPlayer after episode one has aired on Monday 22nd February.

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