Hibs boss Neil Lennon has expressed his anger and sadness that two close former teammates were victims of the convicted serial paedophile ex-coach Barry Bennell.
Bennell was jailed for 31 years at Liverpool Crown Court today for committing 50 child sex offences over a twelve-year period. The victims included 12 young footballers he had coached.
Lennon was at Crewe Alexandra in the 1990s, a squad that included Andy Woodward and Steve Walters, two players who suffered abuse at the hands of Bennell.
The Hibs manager said he felt “sorry” and “angry” that his former teammates and friends had been victims and admitted that Bennell had been admired for his coaching abilities.
“I also feel sad that they couldn’t confide in anyone,” Lennon told BBC Scotland, “that this guy had such a magnetic hold over them that Andy couldn’t even tell his parents.
“We had no idea. I was best man at Andy’s first wedding, we were friends, we used to travel from Manchester to Crewe in the car every day and I had no inkling whatsoever.
“I almost feel that I’ve let them down, because Woody was a good friend of mine at that time.”
“He was very well thought of as a coach,” added Lennon, who joined Crewe from Man City in 1990 as a youngster. “He had a good reputation in terms of working with young players and bringing them on.
“Crewe were churning out players at the time. I was a first-team player, so I didn’t really have a lot to do with him.
“I was staying at Steve Walters’ grandparents’ house in digs and there was a little caravan at the back that Bennell would use maybe once or twice a month, or he’d maybe come in for a cup of tea and chat.
“Obviously he was very good at what he did, he could put on a very good front. There was a real touch of arrogance about him as well. He was very sure of himself.
“It’s horrific, the industrial scale that has gone on. This guy has ruined lives, ruined careers. It’s heartbreaking.
“We all just hope he never sees the light of day again.”
Bennell was relieved of his duties at Crewe in 1992 for reasons which have never been made public.