Raith Rovers: why the club’s apology statement on David Goodwillie misses the point completely

General ground view of Starks Park - home of Raith Rovers.General ground view of Starks Park - home of Raith Rovers.
General ground view of Starks Park - home of Raith Rovers.

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After a week in which they trashed their reputation on the global stage, Raith Rovers still have much to learn about the misogyny that continues to be tolerated in Scottish football culture

Over the past three days, Raith Rovers Football Club have inadvertently crafted a readymade lesson in how not to handle a PR crisis.

To recap this sorry saga, on Monday night, Raith announced the signing of David Goodwillie, who was found to have raped a woman along with another footballer, David Robertson, in a civil hearing in 2017.

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This signing happened despite the fact that the club knew perfectly well that it would cause outrage. They’d even had a dress rehearsal.

In late December, a rumour of the interest from Raith in Goodwillie had prompted droves of fans - like myself - to write emails to the club, and the crime writer Val McDermid, one of the club’s most famous supporters and financial backers, expressed her own opposition in the clearest possible terms.

On Tuesday, after the news had gone national and a steady stream of principled staff and volunteers had resigned, the club issued a statement (since deleted from their website), without anyone’s signature, doubling down on their position, adding that Goodwillie was part of the club and had been signed for “football reasons”.

Unsurprisingly, this added fuel to the fire. Cue more resignations, more sponsors pulling out, and thunderous criticism from McDermid, Rape Crisis Scotland and even Nicola Sturgeon. By this point on Wednesday, the news had gone global, reaching CNN in the States.

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Which brings us up to today, and the screeching U-turn that was surely inevitable, even if it seemed like any club officials who were left at Starks Park were sticking their fingers in their ears.

In the hours before chairman John Sim signalled the club’s intention to sheepishly emerge from the very deep hole they had dug themselves in today, there was the unfortunate publication of an interview with club captain Kyle Benedictus, saying that Goodwillie had the players’ support.

In fairness, this had been conducted after their match against Queen of the South on Tuesday night, but it was another PR misfire - and another show of cowardice from the board, to put a player out to take the heat for the decision-makers behind the scenes.

In today’s statement, Sim has admitted that they “got it wrong”, that they put their focus on football over the community and that they had learned a “hard but valuable lesson”. He also said that Goodwillie will not be selected and that they’re now discussing his “contractual position”.

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What was missing

The glaring omission from this statement was any apology or consideration for the victim of Goodwillie and Robertson.

As Lord Armstrong’s judgment made clear, as if the crime committed against her wasn’t heinous enough, the high profile nature of the case had a profound effect on her life and wellbeing, and it must be mental torture for her every time she’s forced to see it raised again in the public realm.

Just as Raith Rovers did this week by signing Goodwillie, bringing him back on to the front and back pages.

Yet the only apology from Sim was to the “fans, sponsors, players and the wider Raith Rovers community”.

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This isn’t about Raith’s fans, sponsors or players, this is about a shocking crime committed against a woman, and the issue of women’s safety more generally. Remember, Raith’s own women’s teams are in the process of breaking away from the club.

Scottish football has long had a toxic undercurrent of misogyny, and unfortunately that statement is further proof of the ignorance of the problem that goes up to boardroom level.

Why does it matter? It matters because a prominent Scottish football writer has today suggested that it’s now David Goodwillie who needs support from the “Scottish football community”. It matters because a cursory glance on social media dredges up far worse examples of sympathy with Goodwillie, and horrendous attacks on his victim.

As to the lesser question of whether the club can win back the “trust and confidence” of the supporters who have turned their back on them, as the statement says, that’s very much down to whether there’s a root and branch clear-out. Starting from the top.

A message from the editor:

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