I’ve supported Raith Rovers for 30 years - now I need to find a new team

It’s a strange feeling to wake up knowing that you no longer have a football club to support, writes Nick Mitchell

I’ve been going to Raith games since the 1991/92 season (Photos: Nick Mitchell)I’ve been going to Raith games since the 1991/92 season (Photos: Nick Mitchell)
I’ve been going to Raith games since the 1991/92 season (Photos: Nick Mitchell)

Over recent years football fans have come to realise that when money is at play, morality generally goes out the window.

The ruthless pursuit of success at the top of the game, which brings the multiple windfalls of sponsorship, TV money and brand partnerships, means that supporters have had to confront dilemmas and quandaries at every turn.

Whether it’s limitless financial backing from oil-rich, blood-stained regimes, shirt sponsorship from gambling firms or a desire to break away into nonsense super leagues, the moral vacuum in football is grimly indicative of a sport that’s broken away from its roots to embrace grubby global capitalism.

Yes, we’ve come to expect this from the elite clubs, and fanbases have duly split between those who stick around for the Champions League nights, and those who pitch up at their local non-league team instead.

However, I didn’t expect that a moral dilemma would impact on my support for lowly Raith Rovers, a second-tier Scottish club whose quaint, alliterative name beyond Fife is only likely to provoke bewilderment, or perhaps a vague recollection of a Uefa Cup run in the mid-90s that led to a famous half-time score in Munich.

Sadly, my club, who have played since 1883 in the seaside town of Kirkcaldy where I was born, have shown that they are no more connected to their fans than any of the super-rich Premier League giants.

Last night, at the bitter end of the January transfer window, the club announced that it had signed David Goodwillie, a man who was ordered to pay a woman, Denise Clair, around £100,000 in compensation in 2017, after a judge in a civil hearing ruled that he and another footballer, David Robertson, had raped her after a night out in Bathgate in January 2011.

After this ruling, Goodwillie, who was once one of Scotland’s most promising young strikers, pitched up at Clyde, a club even lower in the football pyramid than Raith, and one that was seemingly happy to put up with the opprobrium if it meant an extra 20 goals a season.

In late December, a rumour surfaced linking Raith with Goodwillie’s signature. There was an immediate backlash on social media and forums, and I was one of many supporters to write to the club expressing my concern. I was assured by the club’s Supporter Liaison Officer that she shared my views and that “the emails have been coming thick and fast”.

That Supporter Liaison Officer was one of the principled staff at Raith Rovers who have resigned today, following Goodwillie’s transfer. She’s joined by Bill Clark, a director and former chairman, Tyler Rattray, captain of the Raith Ladies team, the fans director, the stadium announcer and several volunteers. Then there’s Val McDermid, a lifelong supporter and financial backer, who has announced she’s severing ties with the club, along with other sponsors.

Despite a backlash which has even seen the First Minister of Scotland have her say, the club has released a statement defending their decision.

It’s hard to describe how I’m feeling today, as an ex-supporter of a club I’ve followed for more than three decades. A club I’ve grown up watching, enduring the hard times and savouring the rare triumphs.

Yes, there’s anger and disgust, but there’s also sadness.

I’m sad that a Saturday afternoon ritual of going to games with my Dad is no more. I’m sad that the club has become a rightful target of the harshest criticism, on a national stage. I’m sad that many families with young fans will now choose other clubs over Raith.

Some supporters have already said it won’t affect their stance, and that we’re all just virtue-signalling snowflakes.

But I believe that football at this or any level has to be about more than success on the pitch - it has to be about people, about the community and about values.

I cannot continue to support a club that shows it has no moral integrity, that chooses to wilfully alienate its own fanbase and torch decades of loyalty in one fell swoop.

Judging by the reaction on social media today, I know many more feel the same way. Indeed, a group of outraged Raith fans has already raised almost £5,000 for Rape Crisis Scotland.

Last night, seconds after reading the news, I posted a rather flippant tweet to ask which club I should follow now. But today I know for sure that it was a serious question.

Supporting a football club should be a lifelong commitment. It still feels unthinkable to call time on this, but that’s what many Raith fans will be thinking right now.

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