Raith Rovers: A story of two halves, showcasing the worst and the best of humanity - Dani Garavelli
Raith went on to lose 2-1 (4-1 on aggregate). But it was a miracle the small Scottish side was there at all. To reach the competition, they had won the Coca-Cola Cup with a nailbiter of a penalty shoot-out against Celtic. By the time they took on Bayern Munich, they had been promoted to the Premier League, and beaten Gøtu Ítróttarfelag (the Faroe Islands) and Íþróttabandalag Akraness (Iceland).
Those were glory days. But Callum, 32, and more recently Lorn, 29, who spent their earliest years in Kirkcaldy, have supported the team through good times and bad. As boys, they went to matches with their dad Peter. During Covid, they would watch it separately on the live stream - Calum in Austria, Lorn in Edinburgh - talking on Zoom. The weekly fixture bridged the miles and brought some togetherness in the isolation of the pandemic.
All of that ended on Monday night. The brothers were not at yesterday's match. Nor would they have paid to have watched the game on RaithTV had that been possible (it was not).
Along with many others, Callum and Lorn were furious at the signing of David Goodwillie from Clyde. In a civil case brought in 2017, Goodwillie and fellow footballer David Robertson were ruled to have raped Denise Clair six years earlier. “Above all, I feel for the woman at the heart of this who suffered at [his] hands and was brave enough to come forward,” Callum said on Wednesday. “She must have to relive the trauma every time his name circulates in the media.
“This is a betrayal of supporters and volunteers, as well as the women’s team, and tarnishes any notion that as a club we make decisions in the interests of the community.”
By then, Goodwillie’s signing had already cost the club two of its sponsors - crime writer Val McDermid and Dundee company Tag Games; two of its four directors - Bill Clark and Andrew Mill; the captain of the women’s team, Tyler Rattray; supporter liaison officer Margie Robertson; employability project delivery officer, Marie Penman; and stadium announcer, Johnny MacDonald.
Hundreds of fans had expressed their disgust, both at the decision itself and at a statement issued on Tuesday afternoon confirming Goodwillie’s footballing prowess as the club’s “foremost consideration”. Raith were making global headlines for all the wrong reasons.
On Thursday morning, as the pressure mounted, the board performed a dramatic U-turn. In an unsigned statement, it admitted it had been wrong and promised Goodwillie would never don a Raith strip.
But for many of those who had been hurt, it came too late. The damage had been done. The bonds of trust were broken. The club's statement was short on contrition. And as McDermid points out, despite the change of heart, Goodwillie remains the club’s employee. Buying him out of his two and a half year contract is expected to cost upwards of £200,000, money which Raith can ill afford to lose and which Goodwillie will profit from.
“The galling thing is that, as far as I can see, it will be coming out of the money the fans put into the club from going through the turnstiles, buying strips and that sort of thing," McDermid says.
"In an ideal world, the people who made the decision would put their hands in their pockets. I don't imagine for a second that will happen. But I won't be contributing a single penny more until all this is resolved and the board is gone."
The Macdonald brothers agree. "Anyone on the board who sanctioned this move has to resign now,” Callum says. “They can no longer be trusted to make decisions in the best interests of the club.”
They are ashamed of their club, but also proud of the way so many of those at the heart of Raith have responded. They are proud of those who did not put a shot at the Scottish Premiership before the safety of women; of those who stayed true to the club’s stated values: Respect, Ambition, Inclusion, Teamwork and Honesty.
“I have nothing but respect for the way Val and the women's team and the volunteers have spoken out at considerable cost to themselves,” says Lorn, an actor who starred in the rave film Beats. “That’s my team. Their voices are the ones that should be listened to. Until we get them back, I won't give Raith my money or my support. It’s tough, but I’ll do my best not to get emotionally involved.”
What happened at Raith last week will go down in sporting history. And when it is told it will be as a story of two halves, showcasing the worst and the best of humanity.
The first half will be a tale rooted in cynicism; a tale of betrayal, toxic masculinity and a desire to win at all costs. Early in the season, under manager John McGlynn, Raith were playing well enough to eye a place in the Championship play-offs. More recently, however, performances have dipped. What the team needed - everyone agreed - was a decent striker.
One-time Scotland player Goodwillie is - by common consensus - a reliable goal-scorer. When, in December, rumours began to circulate that he might be recruited, McDermid, the Raith Supporters Trust and other fans told the board they would not tolerate a rapist on the books. McDermid, who has put hundreds of thousands of pounds into the club and has her name emblazoned on the north stand, insists she received guarantees it wouldn’t happen.
Yet shortly before the transfer window closed on Monday night - and without informing McDermid - the board released a statement confirming he had signed. The decision was passed by four votes to two; but chairman John Sim, who controls the stadium as well as the club, is believed to have been the driving force. Insiders say he told the others he had calculated the fall-out would cost the club £100,000, but it would be worth it to play in the top flight.
Those who opposed it saw it not only as an endorsement of violence against women but as an exploitation of Goodwillie’s pariah status. “I’ve always despised Clyde for signing Goodwillie because they were signing a player they’d never have a hope of signing otherwise - a player playing maybe two leagues below his ability - because no-one else would touch him," says Raith fan Mike Langstaff.
“Now my club was getting a player again playing at a level (and a cost) below his ability because no-one else would touch him. In essence both Clyde and Raith were seeking to capitalise on the fact a young woman was raped. That’s it in a nutshell."
This is a depressing state of affairs. But the second half of the story is more uplifting. It's a tale of fightback and redemption; of people willing to make enormous sacrifices on a point of principle.
The days after the signing saw a stream of tearful severings. McDermid led the way, of course. A lifelong fan, she was born into the Raith Rovers family, attending home and away matches with her dad, a club scout who discovered Rangers and Scotland legend Jim Baxter. As promised, she withdrew her sponsorship at 8am on Tuesday to a phlegmatic response.
Others quickly followed. Rattray quit after 10 years with the women’s side. “It’s gutting,” she tweeted. Then, the entire squad decided to distance itself. Now renamed McDermid Ladies, its new strip bears the Zero Tolerance logo in place of the club crest.
Penman, also a lifelong fan, was only a few weeks into her dream job as the club’s employability project delivery officer when she saw the statement welcoming Goodwillie. Her youngest child, Clare, now 19, was just six days old when she first attended Stark’s Park and was carried onto the pitch as the team mascot on her first birthday. “My stomach plummeted. I felt physically sick because I loved the job but I knew I would have to resign,” Penman says.
Stephen McAnespie, who scored one of the penalties in the 1994 Coca-Cola Cup final, demanded to be removed from Raith’s Hall of Fame.
"It's been heartbreaking, but what is positive is the level of support," McDermid says. I have had men running up the street to congratulate me. I've had a lot of attention focused on me, but I want to emphasise this has been a huge grassroots upswelling from people who have given hours of their time and money to the club.
“I mean look at the guys who built RaithTV, said by many to be the best club TV in the country. With tears in their eyes, they walked away. This has not just been a couple of ‘mad feminists’ shouting. I’ve had messages from parents and grandparents of girls and boys, who have been playing for the junior teams, in bits because they don’t know what to tell their grandchildren. "
Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the backlash has been the way male fans have turned the club's betrayal into an expression of solidarity with survivors.
New father Martin Glass, 26, set up a crowdfunder for Rape Crisis Scotland - named Raith Fans Against Goodwillie - as a “counter-response”. By yesterday morning donations had topped £12,000.
In the past few days, many people have asked: “Where was the fury five years ago when Goodwillie signed for Clyde?” Well, there was a pushback then: a few people called it out; some fans walked away. But their objections didn’t get much traction.
This time, Goodwillie is signing for a bigger club, with a high-profile vocally feminist sponsor, capable of attracting national headlines. There is also the question of timing. The Goodwillie announcement came shortly after Manchester United player Mason Greenwood was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault and making threats to kill.
But there also seems to be a post #MeToo sea-change in attitude; and a new generation of male fans prepared to challenge the toxic masculinity associated with the sport.
When Rape Crisis Scotland issued a statement early on Tuesday morning, the response was immediate. “We were seeing people not just deciding to take a stand but genuinely in pain,” says press and campaigns officer Brenna Jessie. “We watched as a succession of people made difficult personal choices. There was a real momentum. It was quite extraordinary.”
Jessie was even more astonished when Glass set up his crowdfunder. “At first, it was mostly Raith Rovers supporters but then we started to see the whole of the football community joining in, so you had messages saying ‘solidarity from Ayr United’ and ‘solidarity from the Jambos’.”
One Dumbarton fan, who gave £20, wrote: “Feels a small gesture but wanted to contribute towards something positive that’s come out of this awful situation. Misogyny blights our game (and wider society) in Scotland, it ain’t just Raith.”
“So many women have raised their voices on this for so long,” adds Jessie. “That’s an important point to make. But this was primarily men. I have never seen so many men speaking out and making clear how unacceptable they find violence against women."
McDermid says she hopes the response will prompt a wider conversation about the sport's attitude towards such behaviour. “This story has been reported in New Zealand, Spain, Germany and Canada,” she says. “It has not just spread across Scottish football, it has spread across the world.”
The events of last week have certainly prompted soul-searching at Raith Rovers. Those affected are asking fundamental questions about ownership, and how and in whose interests football clubs should be run.
A single wealthy owner has benefits. It means there is always someone to bail the club out in a crisis; but it also leaves it vulnerable to poor individual decision-making such as the signing of Goodwillie.
The irony is that Raith have been here before. In 2004, the relationship between the board and the fans fractured over the appointment of Claude Anelka, who effectively bought himself the manager's job for £300,000. Under his direction, the club embarked on a losing streak which his resignation halfway through the season did nothing to avert. Raith were relegated to the Second Division.
The following year, the crisis intensified. The fans wanted owners Colin McGowan and Alex Short out. But the pair, who were part of the group who bought the closure-threatened club in 1999, said they wouldn’t budge until they had recouped the money they invested. They held 50 per cent of West City Developments (now Stark’s Park Properties), which owned the stadium, and threatened to demolish it and sell the site for housing unless the community took the destiny of the club into its own hands.
And so, Reclaim the Rovers was born. With the help of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Val McDermid and others, Raith’s future was secured in a £1.2m buy-out. The supporters raised £100,000 (gaining 12.4 per cent of the shares): a proportion that guaranteed them a seat on the board.
One of the investors joining the club in 2005 was current owner Sim, now CEO of PFK International, who had become a shareholder in Stark’s Park Properties. For several years, he played a background role, but for the last four, he has been the majority shareholder, controlling both the club and the stadium.
Steven Lawther, longtime fan and author of Unthinkable!: Raith Rovers’ Improbable Journey from the Bottom to the Top of Scottish Football, says the fall-out from that turbulent period lasted a decade, with disaffected fans drifting away.
Lawther was amongst those who tried to repair the damage. The communications and media specialist for the Raith Supporters Trust, he helped redecorate the stand, putting up posters about the club’s past “so even when things weren’t going well, you got a sense of its history”. And he helped set up a successful kids’ club named after Roary, the Raith mascot.
“The frustrating thing is there has been so much happening in the last five years under the new owner that is positive,” he says. “The setting up of the Community Foundation, talk of a new community hub and the synthetic pitch which a large number of people can play on - have all developed the sense of a community club.”
Much of that has now been squandered. On Tuesday, 1,000 fans turned up at the Raith v Queen of the South match (in which Goodwillie did not play) - a drop, Lawther says, of around 500 on a typical home attendance. He goes to matches with his 16-year-old daughter Grace, who plays for Boroughmuir Thistle, creating precious memories on away trips to Kilmarnock and Banks O’ Dee in Aberdeen. Now - though he might be prepared to return - she remains reluctant. “Saturday football is the time we come together and share the events of the week,” Lawther says. “I would miss that.”
Many at Raith believe the Goodwillie debacle was able to happen because ultimate control resides in one individual: Sim. Some are calling for all remaining board members and McGlynn to resign and a reconfiguration of how the club is financed and run.
“We [the supporters] have a fairly small shareholding in which means the majority shareholder can really do what he likes without anyone being able to stop him,” says Raith Supporters Trust chairman Alan Russell.
Russell is also the chief executive of Supporters Direct Scotland which backs collective, community or fan buy-outs of football clubs. Several Scottish sides - including Motherwell, Morton and Hearts - have achieved that goal. But such a move takes years and requires the major shareholder to cooperate in a gradual, structured transition.
“The best way for an individual owner to make sure their legacy is established in the club is to make sure it is handed over safely to a group of people - the club’s support - who can continue that good work,” Russell says. “That support can include those major shareholders, but they would become one of many rather than the one for whom the buck stops here.”
He believes the best way to secure Raith’s future is for it to become community-owned, but this seems unlikely. “When [Sim] increased his shareholding back in 2017, we asked a series of questions about his exit strategy. That wasn’t meant to be rude or critical, we just wanted to know when he was likely to want out and could we work towards something? I am not sure he fully understood. He said his exit strategy was ‘in a wooden box’.”
McDermid says she won’t be buying so much as a pie until the board is gone, but she doesn’t see that happening any time soon. “A fan buy-out is a fantasy. For it to have any traction you have to have a willing vendor,” she says. “If John Sim said tomorrow ‘I will sell you Raith if you can raise the money’, it would still be madness because he controls the ground and has the means to bankrupt the club.”
As Raith fans like Russell worry about the future of the club, the women’s team is forging ahead with support from McDermid and Rattray back at the helm.
“When Tyler tendered her resignation it was devastating,” says Aileen Campbell, CEO of Scottish Women’s Football. “Women face a lot of barriers getting into sport and a lot of barriers getting into football. To see that, as a result of the decision [to sign Goodwillie], it was women being lost to the game - that was tough.
“However, as the day progressed, the growing sense of solidarity gave everyone great heart.”
Later today, McDermid Ladies will take on Livingston Dev at Windmill Community Campus in Kirkcaldy. The venue may not be as prestigious as Stark’s Park, but the support will be bolstered by disenfranchised Raith fans and those who have been inspired by the recent backlash.
That backlash is likely to act as a powerful deterrent against future clubs signing players with a history of violence against women. But an even better legacy would be a transformation of the culture within the sport.
“I really hope this signals a wider move within the community of football fans not just in Kirkcaldy, but across Scotland and across the world,” McDermid says. “I want to see football become a bigotry-free zone. And by bigotry I mean all the ‘isms’: no misogyny, no homophobia, no sectarianism: just a place where people can come together, support their team and enjoy the game.”