Stephen Halliday: David Goodwillie and football's moral maze

The moral high ground has always been dangerous and uncertain territory within the environs of Scottish football.

Clyde striker David Goodwillie is reportedly a signing  target for Premiership Livingston. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Clyde striker David Goodwillie is reportedly a signing target for Premiership Livingston. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

News that Livingston are seeking to sign David Goodwillie ahead of their top flight return in the new season will certainly reignite the always highly emotive debate over the ethics of football clubs employing players who have fallen foul of the law.

The West Lothian club clearly have no qualms whatsoever about providing opportunities for individuals whose past misdemeanours off the pitch can raise both eyebrows and objections among many observers.

When it comes to the rehabilitation of offenders, Livingston are top of the league. Their first team coach David Martindale, currently caretaker manager as they seek a replacement for promotion-winning boss David Hopkin, was jailed for six and a half years in 2006 for his part in a major drug dealing operation.

Two key members of the squad which won the Premiership play-off final last month are defenders Alan Lithgow and Declan Gallagher – the former was placed on the sex offenders’ register in 2008 while playing for Clyde, the latter served 16 months of a three-year prison sentence for his part in the assault of a man in Blantyre in 2013.

The case of Goodwillie, of course, is altogether more high-profile. Now 29, the former Scotland striker, along with his then Dundee United team-mate David Robertson, was ruled by a civil court last year to have raped 
Denise Clair following a night out in 2011. The pair subsequently failed in an appeal against the finding which ordered them to pay £100,000 in damages.

Clyde were widely criticised when they signed Goodwillie last year, the player having left his previous club Plymouth Argyle by mutual consent in the wake of the civil court ruling. Norrie Innes, the Clyde chairman, has robustly and consistently defended his club’s stance, insisting they are “doing the right thing” by helping Goodwillie and that it would serve “no positive purpose or societal gain whatsoever to wish ill on him and allow his 
talents to stagnate and waste”.

With 25 goals in 37 appearances for the League Two side last season, it is clear Goodwillie still has much to offer as a footballer. Livingston are evidently willing to embrace the same approach towards him as Clyde and are well within their rights to do so.

It will be an understandable source of discomfort to many, of course, but if Goodwillie’s trade was plumbing or joinery, he would be able to continue earning a living with any employer prepared to offer him work. Why, he is entitled to ask, should it be any different as a footballer?

It is, of course, the attention and profile the game attracts – not to mention the often risible notion of players as “role models” – which means football clubs find themselves being held to different standards than other employers in such circumstances.

Rangers assistant manager Gary McAllister felt the need to publicly vouch for the character
of new signing Jon Flanagan earlier this week, the former Liverpool full-back having been sentenced to 40 hours of unpaid work and a 12-month community order earlier this year after pleading guilty to the common assault of his girlfriend.

Flanagan has previously expressed his remorse and now wants to put the past behind him. Like anyone else in this country, he has an inalienable right to do so, regardless of the fact he happens to be a professional athlete who may come to be idolised by young supporters.

Perhaps some Dundee fans may have found themselves conflicted in their enjoyment of Paul McGowan’s efforts for the club as he played for them while wearing an electronic tag as a result of three separate convictions for assaults on police officers.

The former Celtic and St Mirren playmaker is now facing more trouble as he awaits sentencing next month for spitting at a bouncer outside a night club in May, leaving Dundee with new questions to answer over their backing of the 30-year-old.

It’s hardly a new phenomenon in Scottish football. Hearts, for example, faced a dilemma over Craig Thomson when the defender was placed on the sex offenders’ register in 2011 after being convicted of “lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour” towards two under-age girls. Thomson was initially loaned out by Hearts before they eventually released him. Last season, he resumed his senior career when he joined Edinburgh City. The League Two club, fully aware of the controversy it would cause, stated their unequivocal belief Thomson was fully rehabilitated and deserving of an opportunity to play in the SPFL.

Just like David Goodwillie, if Thomson performs well enough to attract the attention of bigger clubs, can he reasonably be denied the chance to better 
himself and continue rebuilding his life?

It was Oscar Wilde who famously observed that ‘the only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future’. For the sinners, finding that future within Scottish football remains anything but straightforward.