Raith Rovers issued a statement on Tuesday evening pledging to “rebuild” the trust of fans as the club said it was standing by the move to sign David Goodwillie, a former Scotland international, describing it as a “football-related decision”.
Goodwillie was adjudged by Lord Armstrong in 2017 to have raped a woman alongside David Roberston, his former Dundee United teammate. He was ordered to pay damages following the civil case.
The Scottish Championship club’s manager, John McGlynn, praised Goodwillie as “the top goal scorer in Scotland”, and said his signing was “crucial” to its promotion push.
However, the announcement of the deal has sparked dismay among the club’s fans, and brought condemnation from politicians and charities which help the survivors of sexual violence.
Crime writer, Val McDermid, a former Raith director and one of its most high-profile supporters, announced she had withdrawn her support and shirt sponsorship deal with the club, saying the thought of Goodwillie paying in a shirt with her name on it made her feel “physically sick”.
And former prime minister Gordon Brown – a prominent support of the club – declared he could “not support this signing”, adding: “I condemn rape and all violence against women. Because of the number of recent examples across football, I urge the football authorities to set out a policy to address cases of violence like this.”
Ms McDermid said she had ended her life-long support of the club, adding the “disgusting and despicable” signing shattered any claim Raith has to be a “community or family” institution.
She had previously warned the club against signing the forward last month, stressing “he’s not a role model in any sense”.
“Goodwillie has never expressed a shred of remorse for the rape he committed,” she said. “His presence at Stark’s Park is a stain on the club.”
Paul Farley, the founder of Tag Games, another of Raith’s sponsors, said the firm would not renew any deal with the club and had asked it to remove its branding. “We stand with Val McDermid and the majority of fans against violence towards women,” he said.
Tyler Rattray, the captain of Raith’s women’s team, said she was quitting in the wake of the Goodwillie signing, stating she wanted “nothing to do with it”. Shortly afterwards, Margie Robertson, the club’s supporter liaison officer, also walked out. “My values and that of the club are now on a divergent path,” she said.
That position was echoed by Bev Harkins, a coach with the women’s and girls’ sides, which has more than 140 players on the books. “After all our hard work on bringing the club together to be part of our community, it’s just a complete slap in the face,” she said.
Marie Penman, who was recently appointed as the employability project delivery officer with Raith’s charitable community foundation, also quit her “dream job” at the club she has supported all her life, declaring herself “shocked” and “disappointed”.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who visited Raith’s Stark’s Park stadium with Ms McDermid in 2019 to speak to players and coaches from the club’s women and girls age groups, backed the writer and Ms Rattray, describing the stance they had taken as “principled”.
“The fact they’re in this position at all reminds us that our society still has a way to go to make zero tolerance of sexual violence a reality,” she wrote on Twitter.
In a statement, Rape Crisis Scotland said it was “surprised” and “deeply disappointed” the club was “happy to send such a clear message of disregard to survivors of rape and sexual violence” by signing Goodwillie.
“Fundamentally, though it seems Raith FC do not agree, women’s lives are more important than men’s talent or careers,” the charity said. “Footballers are role models, particularly for young people, and it’s not OK to have someone in this position who has been found by a senior judge to be a rapist.
“We wonder whether those who took this decision thought for a second about how it may look or feel to survivors to have to watch someone judged to have committed rape be celebrated and applauded.
“This was a bad decision that sends entirely the wrong message and it should be withdrawn.”
It is understood two of Raith’s directors, Andy Mill and Bill Clark, the latter of whom is a former chairman of the club, have also quit the board in protest at the signing of the 32-year-old.
In a statement posted on its website, Raith Rovers said it had “carefully considered its position as a community club”.
“We completely respect the differing views among fans and stakeholders, many of whom we have spoken to directly in the past 24 hours and are continuing to engage with,” the statement said.
“As David has previously played for Raith Rovers earlier in his career, we consider him to be part of Raith Rovers Football Club. The management team is familiar with David’s career and background and – in particular – his footballing ability. That is our foremost consideration, and we believe that he will strengthen the Raith Rovers playing squad.
“Please be assured that as a community football club we fully acknowledge this signing has divided opinion amongst our loyal fans and commercial stakeholders. We aim to rebuild that trust.”
It is not the first time a club’s fans and politicians have reacted angrily to Goodwillie joining their squad. When the striker was signed by Clyde in 2017, Jamie Hepburn, the SNP MSP, said it was “very ill considered to say the least”.
In 2009, defender Alan Lithgow, then a Clyde player, was placed on the sex offenders’ register and branded a "nasty pervert" by a sheriff after admitting a series of sex offences. He has since gone on to play for six other clubs, including his current team Greenock Morton.
In 2011, Hearts player Craig Thomson was fined £4,000 and placed on the sex offenders’ register after he pleaded guilty to lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour towards girls aged 12 and 14.
The club initially backed the player only to send him on loan to a Lithuanian side after a drinks sponsor tore up its contract with Hearts. He currently plays for the Scottish League Two team Cowdenbeath.
In 2018, meanwhile, Rangers signed the right-back, Jon Flanagan, from Liverpool. Earlier that year, the defender was sentenced to 40 hours of unpaid work and a community order for assaulting his girlfriend.
Liverpool Magistrates' Court heard he "slammed" his partner against the wall and kicked her "while she was on the floor".
Gary McAllister, the Glasgow club’s then assistant manager, said Flanagan had shown “great deal of remorse”. The player made only 21 appearances for Rangers, and is now on the books of Danish side HB Køge.