Floodlights is Andy Woodward’s story of justice

Tuesday: Floodlights - (BBC Two, 9pm)

Andy Woodward
Andy Woodward

Thousands of people around the world dream of becoming a professional footballer. Only a select few make it.

Those left by the wayside probably look on with envy at the seemingly lucky few who get to take to the pitch week in, week out, earning the adoration of fans, as well as a great pay packet.

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But what they don’t see is the mental torment of those struggling for personal reasons.

The recent two-part documentary Gazza gave the public a glimpse of a sporting genius brought low by a number of factors, many of which were outside of his control. This new feature-length drama focuses on a less celebrated former player, but one who also struggled to keep on track, albeit for very different reasons.

As a child, Andy Woodward was football mad. He signed his first professional contract with Crewe Alexandra in July 1992 at the age of 19, but by that time, he was already a tormented soul after suffering years of sexual abuse during his youth career.

After hanging up his boots in 2003 at the relatively early age of 29, he joined the Lancashire police force, but in November 2016 was dismissed for gross misconduct after having an inappropriate relationship with the relative of a victim. Later that month, with his personal life in turmoil, he went public about the abuse, naming coach Barry Bennell, who is currently serving a 34-year sentence for offences committed against a number of boys.

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Incredibly, the now convicted paedophile married Woodward’s older sister Lynda in 1991. She was named after an aunt they never met – because she’d been raped and murdered before they were born by Bennell’s cousin Ronald.

Now Woodward’s incredible story is being retold with his full support; Shameless star Gerard Kearns is tackling the role of the former footballer, saying “I am honoured to be playing Andrew Woodward and hope that we have done his story justice.”

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The screenplay is by Matt Greenhalgh, a veteran at bringing true tales to the screen following his work on Control and Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool.

“I was in the crowd at Maine Road when Bury FC beat my team, Manchester City, 0-1 in 1998,” adds the writer. “Andy Woodward was playing for Bury and was outstanding. When his brutal story broke I remember being stunned not only by the magnanimity of his courage, but by how this could happen in our national sport. His horrific revelations were undoubtedly a pivotal moment for football… but also for many, many men.

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“Andy’s story more than deserves telling as drama, so that it can keep on telling, and informing the next generation of parents and kids. And I am very proud to be part of his honourable fight to expose those who prey on children in any walk of life.”

But the last word goes to Woodward himself: “Since speaking out in 2016 I’ve wanted to continue to encourage people to talk without fear, to make a change. Floodlights tells my story, which no child should ever have to go through. I hope this film helps to stop abuse in football and in all areas of life.”