London: Shaking with emotion, the victims of Barry Bennell told of their decades of trauma inflicted by the paedophile football coach who destroyed their lives.
After Bennell was convicted on Thursday of 43 counts of child sex abuse, the middle-aged men he raped and abused as boys said they had finally received justice.
They had dreamed of making it as professional footballers, but spoke instead of lives lived in shame, thinking nobody would believe them.
Andy Woodward's decision to go public about his ordeal gave a flood of others the courage to come forward, leading to a case that revealed the underbelly beneath the global glitz of English football.
"I knew he was prolific, I knew he was on an industrial scale, I didn't know so many people would have the courage to come forward," Woodward said outside Liverpool Crown Court in northwest England.
"I'm so proud of every single one of them."
He said wanted an apology at long last from Crewe Alexandra, the club where Bennell coached, and wanted the Football Association governing body to take action.
"Now's the time," the 44-year-old said.
The court heard how victims were abused by Bennell at his home, in his car and on trips and holidays.
Dozens of complainants against Bennell have come forward since Woodward spoke out and hundreds more have accused other coaches of abusing them.
Football dream became nightmare
Fighting back tears, fellow victims told how their lives had been dominated by Bennell's abuse – until now.
"We were little boys with a dream and our innocence was shattered. Our dream was turned into the most horrendous nightmare," said Micky Fallon.
"For decades we held our silence – just like our abuser told us to.
"That fear never, ever leaves you. The fear not only of abuse but fear that you will not be believed if you speak out.
"We broke the silence and we took back our voice. We are no longer afraid of you, Barry Bennell.
"Today justice was done and you no longer have any power over us. You are nothing to us at all.
"The stolen voices of a generation have been heard."
Former Crewe player Steve Walters, 46, said his parents trusted the club and thought he was safe, but for years, boys were systematically groomed "in plain view".
"How can it be that no one realised something was wrong?" he asked.
"We suffered because of a disgusting predator but we also suffered sometimes because the sport we loved decided that the reputation of a coach, club or a sport was put above the protection of children.
"No survivor should face the fear, the shame, the nightmares alone. No child should suffer the way we did.
"Please – never let this happen again."
Chris Unsworth, who was abused by Bennell when he was a scout at Manchester City, reached out to other child sex abuse victims.
"Our case was about abuse that took place decades ago. But child sex abuse is happening today and it is destroying lives," he said.
"You are not alone. We believe you and we will support you."
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Updated Date: Feb 16, 2018 12:03:32 IST