The Former Coach was Found Guilty on 50 Counts of Child Sexual Abuse
Barry Bennell, the disgraced former football coach, was this week sentenced to 31 years in prison for 50 counts of child sexual abuse. Bennell, a revered coach at numerous clubs during the 1980s, most notably at Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra, was branded “sheer evil” and “manipulative” by the judge.
Micky Fallon, who was abused for the first time by Bennell when he was 13 in the 1980s at Crewe, said after the sentence was handed down that “today we (the victims) stared evil in the face and we smiled”.
Fallon is one of a number of victims who, until recently, had not been able to speak out against Bennell, telling the Guardian that “it isn’t easy admitting you were one of Barry Bennell’s boys.” However, once Andy Woodward spoke out in November last year, there has been a domino effect, with no less than 86 former players of Bennell coming forward.
Woodward, a former pro and the first of Bennell’s victims to speak out, compared it to the Jimmy Savile case, where people eventually had the courage to challenge someone who previously had so much power and influence.
Bennell certainly had power and influence in the football world as a highly sought-after youth football coach during the 1980s. Victims have told stories of Bennell threatening their place in the team or even in the academy itself should they try to reject his advances.
Bennell was a manipulative and evil man, convincing fellow coaches and parents that he was a caring individual, when in fact he was abusing boys as young as nine. Fallon himself describes his first impressions of Bennell – when he was 12 – as being entirely positive. He saw him as “friendly, bubbly, chatty”.
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Bennell would use his house to abuse the boys, with many of his victims not living anywhere near Crewe or Manchester. Fallon’s family were from Plymouth and thus whenever he went up to Crewe – usually during school holidays – he would have to be housed. The coaches property has been described as a “teenage boys dream”, with it kitted out with arcade games, televisions and, most bizarrely of all, luxury pets including a puma, which, Woodward states, would “roam the living room while you were sitting there”. Bennell would often have more boys to stay than there were beds, forcing boys to have to sleep in the same bed as him. He would deliberately scare the boys – Fallon cites a time at Bennell’s house where he made 13 year olds watch the horror film Nightmare on Elm Street – forcing them to “snuggle up close to him”, making him appear as the only person that could protect them.
His attacks were calculated, cold and, perhaps most shamefully of all, obvious. Daniel Taylor, the journalist for the Guardian whose investigative work uncovered most of the abuse, tells a story of Bennell about to be employed by Manchester United. He turned up at Carrington, the club training ground, to finalise his appointment as an academy coach; however, when Alex Ferguson spotted him, he immediately called security to “get that man off this property”. There were other incidents, which led to Crewe being branded the “paedophile club” by opposition players and coaches.
Bennell’s abuse was not a secret. Unfortunately, it is another story of those in senior positions missing – or ignoring – blatant abuse at the hands of a man who thought he was all powerful.
By Julian Bovill