When Raith Rovers signed David Goowillie, a man found by a civil court to be a rapist, it was met with vocal opposition from high-profile fan Val McDermid. His signing was eventually reversed, but had the damage already been done?
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today, Val McDermid’s battle with Raith.
Val McDermid is a bestselling crime novelist.
She’s a prolific author. Her books span across five different series, and they’ve sold millions of copies around the world.
“Her latest book, Cross and Burn, is the eighth to feature two of her regular characters – the psychological profiler Tony Hill and his friend, the detective Carol Jordan, familiar to viewers of ITV’s adaptations of her books – Wire in the Blood.”BBC
But Val’s success didn’t come from privilege. She comes from a working class family in Fife, Scotland.
Her father worked as a scout for Raith Rovers, and Val has been a lifelong fan of the club.
Her success as an author has allowed her to support the team financially with various sponsorship deals.
Val’s own character is as strong as those she creates. She’s a vocal feminist.
“I would say that what I’m writing are novels that have as a large element of them social commentary about the way we live now. It would be incredibly naive to say that these kind of crimes of violence don’t exist against women. They do exist. They exist as domestic violence, they exist as date rape, they exist as as stranger violence. Women overwhelmingly are the victims of this kind of extreme sexual violence.”BBC
So when Raith Rovers announced the signing of David Goodwillie – a man who was ruled to be a rapist in a civil case in 2017 – you can imagine how horrified Val McDermid must’ve been.
“Here’s what she said…I’ve ended my lifelong support of Raith Rovers over the signing of the rapist David Goodwillie. I have cancelled next season’s shirt sponsorship over this disgusting and despicable move. This shatters any claim to be a community or family club. Goodwillie has never expressed a shred of remorse for the rape he committed. His presence at Starks Park is a stain on the club. I’ll be tearing up my season ticket too. This is a heartbreaker for me and many other fans, I know.”Sky Sports
Walking away from your beloved football team is not a decision that’s taken lightly.
Raith employees left their jobs, the women’s team ended all association with the club, and Raith Rovers made things worse by issuing a statement that was seen by Raith fans – and the wider football community – as completely tone deaf.
In its statement responding to the criticism it faced for signing David Goodwillie, Raith Rovers said that they “acknowledged the gravity of what happened ten years ago” but that first and foremost, this was a football related decision.
They added that he is a “proven goal scorer.”
But times are changing, and purely “football related” decisions are becoming less and less of an option for clubs.
News of David Goodwillie’s signing became political, as Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon waded in.
“While we talk about sexual violence, misogyny, and abuse and harassment of women, we’ve got an awful long way to go to make that a reality, to to make zero tolerance of sexual violence a reality. Look, I would hope Raith Rovers would reflect very carefully on the groundswell of opinion that has been expressed over the last 24 hours…”STV
As the public pressure intensified, the u-turn became inevitable.
“It reads like this: I firstly want to apologise wholeheartedly to our fans, sponsors, players and the wider Raith Rovers community for the anguish and anger caused over the past few days. We got it wrong. In reaching our original decision we focused far too much on football matters…”Sky Sports
Whilst many Raith Rovers fans and employees were surely relieved at this news, the whole incident raises questions.
First of all, David Goodwillie had been playing for – and was Captain of – Scottish League One side Clyde since 2017.
Why had the issue not been raised before?
At the time, Scottish Parliament member John Mason said he would boycott Clyde but David Goodwillie continued to play. You also have to wonder whether the u-turn by Raith Rovers’ was merely in response to the sheer weight of public pressure?
Supporters had emailed the club back in December to strongly object to the signing. They were ignored.
There was no mention of the impact of sexual violence in the Raith Rovers statement.
As yet, there have been no resignations either.
Why didn’t the board anticipate just how strong the reaction would be? And did the apology go far enough?
It seems as though the signing of David Goodwillie – and the subsequent reaction –has highlighted that there’s still plenty to be done to change attitudes in football.
Val McDermid says that it’s just the first step on a long road back for Raith Rovers.
And it’s perhaps a journey that all of football could join them on.
Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Gary Marshall.
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