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On ‘Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,’ the Horrifying Story About the Scandal of British Football
May 23, 2017  | By David Hinckley
 

The most powerful 20 minutes of television Tuesday night are also likely to be the most somber: a catch-up report for the American audience on the pedophilia scandal that began rattling British football last November.

Tuesday’s report can be seen on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, 10 p.m. ET. The segment is reported by David Scott and titled “Soccer’s Darkest Secret.”

The case began with a former Premier League player, Andy Woodward, saying that during his six years in the British youth development system he was repeatedly raped by his coach Barry Bennell.

Making the situation more shocking to British fans, this happened at Crewe Alexandra, one of the most respected and successful youth development teams in the country.

Bennell, similarly, was highly respected. He had previously worked at Premier League powerhouse teams Chelsea and Manchester City.

At Crewe Alexandra, he forged relationships with the boys’ families, telling them that their sons would develop more rapidly if they spent weekends at Bennell’s house.

Woodward, talking with Scott, says he endured the abuse and kept quiet because he was warned that if he said anything, he would lose playing time and his career prospects would nosedive.

Woodward’s decision to finally talk, years after the abuse happened, opened an unexpected floodgate. More than 500 former youth players have come forward with similar stories, and hundreds of coaches and organizations are under investigation.

One of those who has now spoken out, Gary Johnson (as a child, above left; now, below right), earlier achieved his childhood dream of playing for Chelsea. But he says it was a hollow victory because he was “shattered” inside by years of sexual abuse from chief scout Eddie Heath at Chelsea’s youth program.

Heath often orchestrated multi-player sexual encounters, says Johnson, and no one spoke out for the same reason Woodward kept quiet: They were afraid it would kill their career prospects.

It all sounds like an even larger version of sexual scandals in U.S. sports programs, and it was appropriately shocking news in Britain, where football rules as the national sport and obsession. It has been headline news since Woodward stepped forward.

Viewers in the U.S. may be equally interested, if not surprised, when “Soccer’s Darkest Secret” notes two further disturbing aspects of the story.

Both involve the potential culpability of the organizations that were in the business of supervising the teams where this abuse took place.

Scott talks with an identity-protected former employee of Crewe Alexandra who says that in 2001 he went to the Football Association (FA), Britain’s ruling soccer authority, and warned about a potential pedophilia scandal.

He soon received a one-sentence reply telling him the FA had investigated and “there is no case to answer.” The FA also subsequently terminated a study on child protection before it was concluded, citing “budget cuts.”

Since Woodward came forward, the FA has suspended several coaches suspected of pedophilia. But the former Crewe employee says he suspects both the team and the FA are still trying to minimize the damaging scandal.

He notes that the official who apparently refused to investigate Bennell, the man who abused Woodward and others, today is chairman of Crewe Alexandra.

While the focus of “Darkest Secret” remains on the sexual abuse itself, and how something this widespread could have continued for so long, it also notes the subsequent impact on the victims’ lives.

Alcoholism, depression, bad relationships and suicide attempts seem to have been unsurprisingly frequent.

“At no point has anyone on that football club spoken out,” says Woodward. “Not even ‘We’re sorry for what you’ve been through.’ ”

 
 
 
 
 
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