Andy Woodward discusses his brave decision to speak publicly about the abuse he suffered from the age of 11

Former footballer had originally told his story in The Guardian

BY Raf Diallo 20:00 Wednesday 23 November 2016, 20:00 23 Nov 2016

Andrew Woodward, Crewe Alexandra. Picture by Neal Simpson EMPICS Sport

Last week in an interview with The Guardian's Daniel Taylor, former footballer Andy Woodward spoke publicly for the first time about the sexual abuse he endured as a young player.

The 43-year-old opened up about the "the massive, horrible burden" that he has had to carry since the age of 11 due to the abuse inflicted upon him by former football scout and coach Barry Bennell, who was later convicted of sexual offences against six boys in 1998 and sentenced to a custodial sentence.

Since the publication of The Guardian interview with Woodward, other former players have since come forward.

On Wednesday night, he spoke to Off The Ball's Joe Molloy and detailed the emotions he has felt in the last week since going public.

"I've had every emotion you could possibly go through from fear to upset. I'm completely drained. I've not slept for days but I think the adrenalin's kicked in because I'm so passionate about this," he said. 

"It's such a serious issue and so many people have been affected for so many years like me and this is what it's about and I finally feel an element of relief that I'm not on my own now. There are people coming out who are going public as well which takes a massive amount of courage to do that."

Andy Woodward of Bury Town football club, prior to the 1999-2000 season. Picture by CROFT MALCOLM CROFT PA Archive/PA Images

One of the other players who has come out and spoken to The Guardian about his abuse at the hands of Bennell was fellow former Crewe Alexandra youth graduate Steve Walters.

Woodward and Walters have since spoken to each other about their experiences.

"It was very, very difficult. Steve was only a year older than me and I was at the house at the same sort of times and to hear him speak and talk - and I spoke to him for days leading up to him coming out - and we've had a rollercoaster of crying and I got to see him the day it got released in the paper. We went to the PFA together and to see him in person, I couldn't let go of him when I was talking to him because he kept just saying 'you saved me, you've done this,'" said Woodward. 

He also explained what prompted him to first speak to loved ones about the abuse he endured.

"It was back in '98 when [Bennell] had been arrested and extradited from America. It was over that period that the police came and did interviews and they kept coming back and kept coming back. I wouldn't say they bullied me, it was just a bit of force that they gave and I think I needed that kick just to go 'yes.' And I was looking at my parents as well and my family and I just thought 'I've got to speak up,'" he explained.

Woodward suffered the abuse at the hands of Bennell during the 1980s. 

He went on to explain that Bennell "within weeks would spot the vulnerable one there or the one that was quiet like I used to be" and detailed how he inflicted his power over his victims.

"You're inspiring to be a professional footballer and that's your dream and this man's got your dream at the flick of a sort of 'no, you're not coming here anymore'. That power is so immense that they counter-act each other. You can't say anything because he could end your career at any moment  and also the threat that he's going to end your career in a moment, and the power of that individual is just phenomenal really," he said, while adding that he would take the youngsters to haunted houses and other dark places with the aim of putting fear into his them.

He also spoke about the effect it had on him on the pitch during his senior playing career, including the panic and anxiety attacks he suffered, with CBT therapy helping him to cope.

"It's ruined my life so far and ruined a lot of other people's lives," he said.

But he also explained that he hopes that by coming out and speaking publicly, that he has given hope to others who have been suffering in silence after enduring similar experiences.

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