‘Football’s Darkest Secret’ uncovers abuse

Monday: Football’s Darkest Secret; (BBC One, 9pm)

Sunday, 21st March 2021, 5:00 pm
Detective Inspector Gemma Hunter, Greg Llewellyn, Dean Radford,  Lee Smith, Dion Raitt, Bill Seymour atop the courthouse steps at Winchester Crown Court after the sentencing of Bob Higgins
Detective Inspector Gemma Hunter, Greg Llewellyn, Dean Radford, Lee Smith, Dion Raitt, Bill Seymour atop the courthouse steps at Winchester Crown Court after the sentencing of Bob Higgins

You sometimes have to wonder about TV schedulers.

We know it isn’t always possible or even desirable to have a common theme or tone running through an evening of programming, but scheduling a programme about something as serious and disturbing as child abuse after an episode of classic comedy Fawlty Towers is jarring to say the least.

If those who watch Basil and co’s crazy antics stay tuned, they’re certainly going to be brought back down to earth with a bump.

Filmed over the course of three years by Bafta-winning director Daniel Gordon, whose previous work includes Hillsborough and The Australian Dream, Football’s Darkest Secret examines cases of abuse that took place across the country from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s.

During this period, several coaches and scouts attached to various clubs abused their positions of power to prey on vulnerable young boys, some of whom were living away from home, and got away with it for decades – until Andy Woodward, a former defender for Crewe Alexandra, Bury, Sheffield United, Scunthorpe United and Halifax Town, came forward to tell his harrowing story in November 2016.

That was shocking enough, but even more alarming was the fact he was not alone. More than 800 victims – some higher profile than others – have since discussed their experiences, while 300 suspects working for 340 clubs have been identified.

Here, some of the survivors reveal what happened to them, how it altered their future lives and careers, as well as the ensuing search for justice. Also featured are their relatives, and their testimony goes some way to explaining how abuse doesn’t just impact the victims, it changes the lives of their loved ones too.

Gordon, in an attempt to give a full, rounded view of events, then follows the progress of several high profile court cases. Although these events can be traumatic for those giving evidence, it is also clear how cathartic they can be.

Football’s Darkest Secret is part of a series of hard-hitting programmes coming our way announced by Clare Silvery, Head of Commissioning, Documentaries, last month.

“The BBC will always be the home of high quality, impactful documentaries, from the acclaimed series Once Upon a Time in Iraq to the recent Katie Price: Harvey and Me,” says Silvery. “In these extraordinary and often divided times, it is more important than ever for us to be telling powerful, timely stories which offer different perspectives on the human experience. These documentaries demonstrate my ambition to grow and support the very best directing talent to make purposeful films that help us better understand the world in which we live; I’m very grateful to all those taking part for sharing their stories with us.”

Although the programme should be applauded for its investigation, it has been criticised north of the border after plans to highlight Scottish cases were, according to some reports, shelved. Abuse has been an issue there too; here’s hoping survivors get their own chance to speak out soon.

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