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

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.   

#Leaving Neverland: Michael Jackson and Me, Channel 4, My4, director Dan Reed.

leaving neverland.jpg

It’s easy to condemn now that we know that Michael Jackson was a serial paedophile. Money and fame kept him safe. I remember reading something and it went along the lines of one of Michael Jackson’s advisors warned him not to have young boys in his bed. To stop having sex with them. And Michael Jackson said, ‘No’. There’s a line here that rings out. Michael Jackson is on the phone to Jody Robson, the mother of Wade Robson, the seven-year old child he’s sexually abusing, and he’s asking her to let Jody come and stay with him for a year. And she said ‘No.’

The idea seems so outlandish. Why would an Australian mother of a seven-year-old boy let him go and live with Michael Jackson? But the answer is here. She trusted him. In a way she felt sorry for him. As did the mother of James (Jimmy) Safechuck, who was also sexually abused and appears in the programme. They felt that despite his vast wealth and success he was lonely, vulnerable and childish too. They could mother him. But Michael Jackson warned Jody, Wade’s mother, he always got what he wanted. And he was right – he did.

There’s no need for the usual tools of drama Re-enactments, using actors, child actors in this case, playing the part of Jimmy Safechuck and Wade Robson. They speak for themselves. Grown men, now, telling you how it worked. Their mother’s appear too, older and wiser.  Pattern recognition is always easier when you know what it is you’re looking at.

You couldn’t get in touch with Michael Jackson is the message they knew. Michael Jackson got in touch with you. He was a sexual predator, looking for cute kids.

December 1986, a neighbour of Jimmy Sandchuck, said how cute he was and how she knew an agent that would get him into adverts and TV. ‘I’ll take him,’ the agent said

Michael Jackson said the same thing. Jimmy Sandchuck appeared in a Pepsi advert with Jackson. Then Jackson got in touch. He’d be on the phone for hours. Buddy up. Part of the schmooze wasn’t just changing Jimmy’s life, it was charming the mothers of the child he wanted to abuse. Promises were kept. Trips on flights and fancy games and whatever the heart desired was laid out and laid on. Neverland was like the island where Pinocchio went and the kids turned to asses and Michael Jackson’s nose never grew bigger. His skin got whiter. He always got what he wanted.

Second stage of buddying up was staying overnight. Michael convinced these kids and their parents there was no harm in it. He was such a lonely man-child. He needed company. They were buddies. And slept in the same bed. That’s when he got physical.

Third stage. Touching on top of the child’s pants. Fondling, inside the pants. Sucking the child’s penis. Then having the child perform oral sex on him. We know this because we have verification from Jimmy and Wade.

Jimmy reminds us, I was seven-year old, for christsake, and I’d a man’s penis in my mouth.

Michael liked them to squat on the bed with their ass cheeks pulled apart. Sometimes he’d rim them, which is too adult a description. Michael liked getting his nipples tweaked. Pattern recognition.

He’d tell Jimmy and Wade to shelf their feelings, like he learned to do. To distrust their mum’s. They wanted to keep them apart. God had brought them together and they were in love. So much in love. They had to practice drills. Get their clothes on, quickly, without any noise, when they thought somebody was coming. Michael had warned them, he’d go to jail if they got caught and so would they. But they’d be together forever.

Fourth stage, the replacement part. Jimmy gets dropped for Wade. Wade gets dropped for the child actor, Macaulay Culkin, who insisted nothing had happened between him and Mr Jackson. Brett Barnes replaced Culkin and Jimmy met him, but by that time he was an older boy and relegated to the kind of rooms his mother was forced to sleep in. Jimmy and Michael still had sex. But he was growing older and wiser and Michael Jackson was going for younger and prettier. Pattern recognition. Barnes denies he had sex with Jackson. Good boy. Watch your nose grow. Part two tonight.