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Pittsburgh Tribune Review
LONDON - Former English soccer players who were subjected to years of sexual abuse by youth team coaches entrusted with their care are breaking cover to expose the game's dark secrets.
Harrowing stories of assaults on young players by men they relied on to turn them into professionals are forcing authorities and clubs to finally address how child abusers were able to exploit their positions of power and why the behavior wasn't confronted earlier.
The abuses were first uncovered two decades ago with the conviction of English coach Barry Bennell in the United States and his homeland. Bennell worked in academies across northwest England including Manchester City, Stoke and Crewe Alexandra, which was renowned as a center for turning raw talent into the complete footballer.
The torment suffered by players only now is receiving more widespread attention along with a determination to discover how far-reaching sexual exploitation of youngsters has been in English soccer.
Four police forces across England, including London, have opened investigations after being contacted about Bennell and other unnamed people. Leading clubs Manchester City and Newcastle said they are assisting authorities, and the players' union has been guiding the players who revealed their identities.
"They have been very courageous in coming forward after suffering in silence for years," Michael Bennett, head of player welfare at the Professional Footballers' Association, told the Associated Press on Friday.
"I think the dam has just been busted. The guys who have come forward have been a catalyst," Bennett said.
Andy Woodward, who went on to play for Sheffield United, testified in Bennell's 1998 court case and was the first player to go public recently a year after contacting Bennett.
"We're victims of a horrible, horrendous thing that happened in the early '80s and '90s," Woodward said after leaving a meeting with the English Football Association on Thursday. "Ex-players are suffering so much and suffered in silence for so many years. We went through hell."
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