Former Sheffield United manager Neil Warnock has said he was 'sickened' to hear of the sexual abuse one of his former Blades players suffered as a child at the hands of a football coach.
Andy Woodward, who played for Sheffield United under Warnock in the late 1990s and early 2000s, told the Guardian earlier this week he had been one of the victims of coach and scout Barry Bennell during his time in Crewe Alexandra's youth set-up.
Mr Woodward, now 43, has waived his anonymity as a victim of a sex crime to speak to the Guardian and the BBC about his experiences, which left him close to suicide on several occasions.
He has said he hopes telling his harrowing life story may encourage other victims from the world of football to come forward, especially in relation to his belief that Bennell was colluding with another paedophile who has not been brought to justice.
Bennell was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1998 after admitting 23 specimen charges of sexual offences against six boys aged nine to 15.
Warnock was Woodward's manager at Bury in 1998 when the played confided in him about being a victim of sexual abuse.
But Warnock told the Guardian today he had not been aware of the full extent of his former player's suffering.
He said: "It made me feel sad and sickened to read Andy’s interview and to think about what it’s done to a young man’s future – a great future – and how it has obviously haunted him for years.
“It’s been like a life sentence for him and I really think he is so brave to put it out there and come forward.
“I think he’s doing the right thing, too, because it’s the only way he will get closure. He has to try to get on with his life now but it’s easy for me to say that – I haven’t been through something like he has and unless you have I don’t think anybody can possibly know how terrible it must have been for him.
“He’s had all this time with everything trapped inside his head. I can’t even begin to think what he’s been through because the poor lad has had to deal with so much trauma. I just don’t think people can understand what something like this can do to your life.”
Warnock signed Woodward for Sheffield United after he left Bury for Bramall Lane but the player only made three appearances for the Blades and retired from the game soon after at the age of 29.
Warnock, who now manages Cardiff City, said: “When he played for me at Bury I always thought ‘he’s a hell of a player, this kid’.
"I couldn’t understand why it [his form] suddenly went off. He then told me what had happened, but not in the detail I know from reading his interview.
“I still took him to Sheffield United with me because I felt if I hadn’t it would have destroyed him. But the poor lad was a wreck. I wanted to give him some confidence back but he couldn’t cope and I’m not surprised bearing in mind what he had been through.”