Football’s Darkest Secret is looking into a devastating chapter of the sport’s history.
The three-part series which kicked off on 22nd March, looks at the abuse which took place in youth football all across the country.
Back in the 1970s, several coaches and scouts connected to top football clubs groomed and mistreated young players. Including interviews from survivors of the child abuse scandal, Football’s Darkest Secret documents the shocking story.
It features appearances from former Tottenham and England player Paul Stewart, police detective Gary Cliffe, Andy Woodward, David White, and Ian Ackley, who all tell their individual stories.
Stewart and others speak of being abused by disgraced football coach Barry Bennell while at at White Hill FC, a junior team based in Manchester.
When will Football’s Darkest Secret air?
The three-part series kicked off on Monday, 22nd March at 9pm.
The remaining episodes will be stripped across the week on Tuesday at 10:45pm and Wednesday at 10:45pm.
All episodes are also available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.
Football’s Darkest Secret release schedule
Episode one: The End of Silence (March 22nd)
Episode two: Missed Opportunities (March 23rd)
Episode three: The Reckoning (March 24th)
What is Football’s Darkest Secret about?
Between the mid 1970s until the mid 1990s, several coaches and scouts connected to top football clubs abused their positions of power to prey on vulnerable young boys – and, sadly, got away with it for decades.
Many survivors were shamed into silence – that is, until, Andy Woodward’s decision to waive his anonymity in November 2016 sparked hundreds of men to speak out.
Since then, more than 800 victims have come forward, with 340 football clubs implicated and 300 suspects identified.
Three years in the making, Football’s Darkest Secret is the definitive account of this chapter in English football and the ensuing attempts to seek justice decades later.
Told by survivors, their relatives, police officers, coaches and journalists, Football’s Darkest Secret charts the impact of the abuse and its aftermath on the survivors. While some rose to football fame, others backed away, each dealing with the trauma in their own way.
The docuseries aims to shed a light on this awful crime and offer an insight into the way it impacts survivors and their families throughout their entire lives.
Football’s Darkest Secret episode guide
The End of Silence
Former footballers speak out about the sexual abuse they suffered as youth players.
The second episode gets to the bottom of why it took so long for the full scale of abuse to emerge in youth football.
The final episode looks at what justice might look like for those involved.
Who is Barry Bennell?
Bennell is a former junior football coach and youth scout. He is said to have told young players he could make their dreams come true and help find professional football clubs their next star.
Once a youth player at Chelsea, Bennell was later associated with a number of clubs, most notably Crewe Alexandra – a small- town football club famed for developing talented young players – where he worked in the 1980s and ’90s.
He also spoke about a close association with Manchester City, and was linked to a number of junior teams in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.
Bennell would scout boys across the North West and the Midlands. He also ran summer camps often held at Butlins and Soccer camps in the US.
However, in 1994, his first crimes came to light when police in Jacksonville, Florida charged him with sexually abusing a 13-year-old British boy on a tour. Bennell was sentenced to four years in a US prison.
Bennell’s conviction in the US cast light on his crimes at home, which saw the former coach featured in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme called Soccer’s Foul Play, which aired in the UK in January 1997.
One of the men who featured in the programme was Ian Ackley, an ex-footballer, who waived his anonymity to reveal how he had been repeatedly abused by Bennell.
After he was released from prison in the US, Bennell was arrested by British police and sentenced to a further nine years in prison at Chester Crown Court in 1998, having pleaded guilty to 23 specimen charges, all relating to offences committed from the 1970s to 1990s. A further 22 allegations were left to lie on his file.
Bennell’s third sentencing came in 2015, when he pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault and two counts of enticing a boy under the age of 14 to commit an act of gross indecency, dating back to 1980. He was jailed for two years.
Bennell was sentenced in 2018 for a total of 50 offences against 12 boys and jailed for 31 years.
Where is Barry Bennell now?
Bennell is currently serving a 30-year sentence at HMP Littlehey in Cambridgeshire after being found guilty of 52 child sex offences in 2018.
In October 2020, he was sentenced to another four years for sexual offences against boys.
The crimes were carried out against two boys between 1979 and 1988 when the victims were aged between 11 and 14.
As he sentenced Bennell to his fifth jail term at Chester Crown Court, Judge Patrick Thompson said: “You had a respected position as a football coach for professional football clubs including Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City and Stoke City.
“It was a position you grossly abused in order to use those boys as your sexual playthings.
“These were children whose parents trusted and respected you, when you were in fact a parent’s worst nightmare.”
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