'Floodlights': The harrowing true story of footballer Andy Woodward

Gerard Kearns will star as Andy Woodward in Floodlights. (BBC)
Gerard Kearns stars as Andy Woodward in Floodlights. (BBC)

A harrowing drama about the true story of sexual abuse in football airs on Tuesday with BBC One's Floodlights.

It focusses on ex-footballer Andy Woodward and the emotional story of how being abused as a young boy by his coach has affected every part of his life, eventually leading to him quitting his career in the sport.

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Woodward, now 48, was praised for his bravery in 2016 when he made the enormously courageous decision to speak out on the abuse he had suffered at the hands of coach Barry Bennell.

He had held the secret for most of his life, but in coming forwards he prompted many other players and those who'd been forced to quit the sport as children to talk about their own experiences of the same abuse.

Andy Woodward at the launch of the Offside Trust at the Midland Hotel in Manchester.
Andy Woodward spoke out about his harrowing childhood experiences of abuse. (PA)

Former Bury, Sheffield United and Halifax Town player Woodward told how he had been a victim of child sexual abuse by Bennell at Crewe Alexandra in the 80s and later published a book about what happened to him.

But it soon emerged that he was not the only victim, as players from Manchester City, Preston North End, Wimbledon and Crewe, among other teams including various youth teams, came forward to make their own accusations.

Bennell was jailed in 2018 for a total of 50 sexual offences against 12 boys and was given a sentence of 31 years.

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Woodward said of meeting Floodlights writer Matt Greenhalgh: "It was quite an emotional time, to say the least.

"It’s not an easy thing for any individual to speak out, whether to a police officer or to a journalist or in a book, so it took a lot of courage, because it’s going deep into my life and my family’s life."

Andy Woodward advised closely on the drama. (BBC)
Andy Woodward advised closely on the drama. (BBC)

He added: "The key to it is to understand the impact this has on human life and how common this is. For people to get a full understanding that this doesn’t just happen in football, it happens in all industries, it happens in life in general, and it's more prevalent than people understand.

"But not only an education, also to help others, so it never happens again. And for anyone who has been affected by it, that they can see that you can come out the other side. That’s what I’d like for people to see, the light rather than the dark."

Gerard Kearns, best known for his role in Shameless, plays Woodward in the drama and said that filming it had been a tough process.

Gerard Kearns said there was a lot of responsibility in telling the story. (BBC)
Gerard Kearns said there was a lot of responsibility in telling the story. (BBC)

The actor explained: "There were so many emotional scenes, and there was no hiding from that. It had to be honest and sincere, there was no place for technical tricks in my performance.

"Every scene packed such an emotional punch. It’s not like theatre where you do a show a night, I was having to go again and again and again on the scenes, that was the challenge."

But Woodward said that Kearns was the perfect choice to tell his story.

He said: "We connected to each other straight away, as soon as we sat down together. There were a few tears shed between us both.

"I instantly felt his passion and desire to do everything that he could to play me authentically and I had faith in him from the very start."

Floodlights airs on Tuesday at 9pm on BBC One.

Watch: The trailer for Floodlights