This article contains discussion of subjects including sexual abuse that some readers may find upsetting.


Floodlights is a feature-length BBC Two drama that charts the true story of Andy Woodward, a former professional footballer who was sexually abused by his youth coach Barry Bennell in the 1980s.

Eleven-year-old Woodward was playing for Stockport Boys when he first met Bennell, following him to the youth team at Crewe Alexandra.

"I just wanted to play football," he told The Guardian in 2016. "My mum and dad will say that I always had a football in my hands, wherever I went. I saw Crewe as the start of that dream."

But while Woodward would go on to play the game professionally, he was forced to carry a horrifying secret.

After one training session, Bennell invited Woodward to stay at his house – he had homes in Crewe and Furness Vale, Derbyshire. Woodward described it as a "treasure trove, a child's dream" to The Guardian, listing fruit machines, a pool table and even a monkey "who would sit on your shoulder".

"I was a kid, I trusted him to begin with," he added.

Young Andy Woodward wearing football kit and standing in line with his teammates in Floodlights
Andy Woodward (GERARD KEARNS). TV/Matt Squire

It wasn't long before the abuse started, with Bennell threatening physical violence to keep the youngster quiet. He would also use Woodward's parents as a tool to manipulate him and exclude him from matches on the occasions he didn't do as commanded.

Woodward's trauma was exacerbated further when Bennell married his sister. The coach had started dating her secretly when she was just 16 and Woodward was 14. The wedding took place four years later in 1991.

"I had to live with that on top of everything else," he told The Guardian. "I had to attend that wedding, standing in the church when I really wanted to rip his throat out. It was torture – that's the only word to describe it."

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When the news broke about the abuse Woodward had suffered, his sister "left [Bennell] immediately".

Woodward also revealed another devastating strand of his story in an interview with The Guardian in 2019. One night in 1970, his aunt Lynda, sister to his mum Jean, was on her way home with a friend after a night out in Fallowfield, south Manchester. The pair missed the bus they planned to catch and decided to walk, before eventually saying their goodbyes and going their separate ways. Lynda's body was discovered in the front garden of a house the next morning, "just a few minutes" from her home. She had been raped before being beaten to death.

The man who murdered her was Ronald Bennell, Barry's cousin. He was found guilty and imprisoned, but was released after just 12 years and went on to kill another woman.

Floodlights cast
Andy Woodward (GERARD KEARNS), Terry Woodward (STEVE EDGE), Jean Woodward (MORVEN CHRISTIE). BBC/Expectation TV/Matt Squire

Woodward was not Barry Bennell's only victim. When he first spoke out about his ordeal in 2016 at the age of 43, hundreds of men, a number of whom had been abused by Bennell, also came forward to speak about their respective traumas.

Welsh footballer and manager Gary Speed, who died by suicide in 2011, was one of the boys who was coached by Bennell and he also stayed at his house. It was reported in 2018 that Speed was one of four men who had been coached by Bennell who went on to take their own lives. Speed's family said that he had denied being abused by Bennell.

In 2018, 64-year-old Bennell was found guilty of committing 52 sexual offences against 12 boys, some as young as eight. He had been living in Milton Keynes under the name Richard Jones and was working as a laptop repairer.

Prior to that, he had already served three jail terms for similar offences, including a stint behind bars in the US after being found guilty of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy in 1994.

Bennell is currently serving a 34-year sentence after he was found guilty of further sexual offences against boys in 2020. He is currently being housed at HMP Littlehey.

That was Bennell's final trial despite 86 men (last recorded number) coming forward with their own stories of abuse following the 2018 trial.

"These were children whose parents trusted and respected you, when you were in fact a parent's worst nightmare," said the judge. "That, I'm afraid, is your legacy and changing your name will not change that."

Andy Woodward talking during a conference
Real-life Andy Woodward. Paul Ellis / Getty

Woodward was 24 when Bennell was initially sentenced, and was still playing professionally. Just a few years later at the age of 29, following stints at Crewe, Bury and Sheffield United, among others, his career ground to a halt. The devastating psychological impact of his trauma, which manifested as panic attacks and suicidal ideations, left him unable to continue.

"I suffered in silence," he said. "That was the way football was – and it was horrendous... My belief, after all these years, is that it must have been well known within the club that he had young boys staying over."

In 2018, following an investigation by Cheshire police, Crewe released the following statement: "As the club has previously stated, this thorough investigation concluded that there was no evidence to corroborate that anyone at the club was aware of Mr Bennell's offending."

Woodward later joined the police, where he remained for 12 years, before being dismissed for entering into a relationship with the sister of a crime victim.

Despite receiving therapy and now being able to speak openly about what he suffered at the hands of Bennell, Woodward has said that he will "never set foot anywhere near" Crewe again.

"It's like being chained to a wolf," he said. "Every day, I'm chained to this huge, terrifying beast. It never leaves me. Sometimes you might feel like you have tamed it, that you have got it under control and everything's fine. But you're kidding yourself. Then something happens and it’s baring its teeth again.

"And when it bites you, it bites you hard."

The SurvivorsUK National Online Helpline for Male Survivors can be reached from 12pm – 8pm every day via the website (, by text (020 3322 1860) and by email (


Floodlights airs on BBC Two on Tuesday 17th May at 9pm. Check out more of our Drama coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.