Football’s Darkest Secrets, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer, director Daniel Gordon.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000ths2/footballs-darkest-secret-series-1-1-the-end-of-silence

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000tjhv

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000tjgr/footballs-darkest-secret-series-1-3-the-reckoning

Dalmuir Diamonds is long gone. A boy’s football club I wasn’t part of, but knew about.  Players aged nine, ten or eleven played on the gravel park at Beardmore Street in the early 1970s. The park paved over. Whenever anyone mentions Dalmuir Diamonds there’s that snigger and Bob Finlay’s name is mentioned. Bit of light-hearted bender banter. He was a janitor in the Community Education Centre boys got changed in and he was manager of the team. He was also a kiddy fiddler.

I took a similar light-hearted tone when writing about getting trials for Celtic Boy’s Club and standing there with my kit in a plastic bag and the manager picking the team and not having a clue who I was. I might well have wandered in off the street. My punchline was that I didn’t stay long enough and wasn’t even good enough to get sexually abused. Looking back to the under-15s team that Davy Moyes played in (along with some of my schoolmates, but not me) and we trained on the gravel parks at Barrowfield, there were two abusers there. One was Jim Torbett, the other manager of the under-16 team that included Charlie Nicholas, was Frank Cairney. He spotted me running off the pitch after a Thursday night training session. And he did a strange thing, although he didn’t know me and had never seen me before, he punched me in the stomach as I passed him. I didn’t think anything about it.

I played football for over thirty-five years, but didn’t win any Scotland caps or play professionally as these guys did. I played Welfare leagues for teams that needed bodies that were semi-ambulant and would pay two or three quid for a game. I loved it.  

Andy Woodward, who played for Crewe Alexander; Former England internationalist, Manchester City and  Liverpool forward Paul Stewart, who also scored in the FA cup final for a Spurs team that included Gazza and Gary Lineker; David White the new wunderkid at Manchester City who played for England; Ian Ackley who didn’t play professionally, Dean Radford, who played for the Southampton youth team; Dion Raitt, who played for the Peterborough youth team, and like all the other boys hoped to become a professional player; David Eatock at Newcastle United youth team; Colin Harris at Chelsea. All of these boys had the joy of playing the sport they loved and excelled at sucked out of them. They became different boys, different people after the abuse. Watching these three programmes, the pattern seemed similar to how Michael Jackson worked away from the bright lights.

Befriend the family and offer the dream. If your kid works hard enough, he’s going places. He’s already got the talent. All that’s needed is that bit of extra encouragement and tuition. Barry Bennell, sentenced to 31 years, for 50 counts of child sexual abuse, with hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases not coming to court hid in plain sight. He was the star maker for up-and-coming boy’s teams and had contacts with Manchester City and later provided a conveyor belt of talent to lowly Crewe Alexander. He indirectly propelled them and their up-and-coming manager Dario Gradi up the English leagues. Bennell was untouchable. He raped and sexually abused Andy Woodward, daily, while he was a schoolboy at Crew Alexander academy aged between eleven and fifteen. He married Woodward’s sister. That’s how convincing he was. Andy Woodward even wrote a letter exonerating and praising Bennell for his work with kids like him when he was arrested and sentence to four years in prison for child abuse offences Florida in 1995 after accepting a lesser plea of sexual molestation.

Thirty years later, 2016, aged 43, Andy Woodward waived his anonymity in an interview with Daniel Taylor, a sports journalist at The Guardian. He also spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show. This had a catalysing effect so that others who suffered sexual abuse came forward with their own stories of abuse.

An NSPCC hotline, set up with the English Football Association money, but dedicated to ex-footballers who had experienced sexual abuse received more than 860 calls in the first week.

‘One of the texts we had was from a 13-year-old boy who was preparing to take his own life. He texted to say that, because of Andy, he was going to talk to someone.’

Paul Stewart also waived his anonymity. He spoke publicly of his ordeal after being abused by Manchester City youth coach Frank Roper. Roper told him he had to have sex or he wouldn’t make it as a footballer. Other kids were doing it too. Normalising behaviour. Holding the dream at arm’s length. Holding the shame inside. Roper threatened to kill his parents and brothers if he told anyone.

‘I had some highs in my career, but I never enjoyed them, because I had this empty soul,’ Stewart says. ‘I was dying inside. I masked it with drink and drugs’.

Frank Roper died before he could be brought to justice.

Former Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins is filmed in an interview suite not answering question put to him by Hampshire Police detectives as they conduct interviews. Even more worrying, Higgins was the subject of a police investigation in the early 1990s, but the subsequent trial resulted in his acquittal. Dean Radford and Ian Ackley waived their anonymity.

Watching this programme it’s difficult to believe a jury would not convict Higgins. And whilst he was put on the sexual-offences register, he was not jailed. Dion Raitt, who was abused by Higgins at Peterborough in the mid-nineties sums up the belief that justice delayed is justice denied: ‘If they’d have got their justice the first time around, then I wouldn’t have even met him’.

Following a trial in which a jury couldn’t reach agreement, and a retrial, Higgins was found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse against 24 boys and sentenced to 24 years in jail.

Derek Bell confronted George Ormond, a youth coach connected to Newcastle United, who had abused him. He went to his door with a knife. Luckily for Ormond (and Bell) he wasn’t in. He later went back and recorded a confession from his abuser on a tape recorder hidden in his jacket pocket. Ormond was convicted in Newcastle Court of 36 sexual offences (I’d guess you can multiply that by any figure over ten to 1000) in a period spanning twenty years between 1973 and 1998.  

 Judge Edward Bindloss described Ormond as ‘wholly preoccupied with sex’ and said he ‘used his position as a respected football coach to target boys and young men in his care’.

George Ormond received a twenty-year prison sentence. A substantial sentence like the other paedophiles featured in the programme. Too little, too late, for many. Those abused lost not their dreams of glory, but their ability to dream. They lost their childhood, and the abuse cast long icy spikes into adulthood. These paedophiles, who still plead their innocence, stole their innocence. It makes me angry, really angry. Magnify that anger and multiply the shame those poor boys felt. That’s the way I create my characters and the way they walk and talk. Let’s hope they rot in prison. They’ve created a prison for their victims.   

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