Entertainment, Sports

Raith Rovers David Goodwillie debacle shows football is not yet free of dinosaurs – Susan Egelstaff

IF you back pedal quickly enough, can you repair the damage done? It’s a question Raith Rovers will find the answer to in the coming weeks and months.

My guess is, almost certainly, no. At least not in full.

It’s one of the quirks of life that so many years of good work can be undone by one bad decision.

But what a decision is was by members of Raith Rovers’ board who have ensured the Kirkcaldy club was talked about on everything from Sky Sports News to Woman’s Hour last week.

On Monday evening, with just half-an-hour of the January transfer window to go, Raith Rovers decided to obliterate the reputation they had carefully nurtured over almost a century-and-a-half of being a community-minded, family-friendly club. And it only took  hours to do it.

The details of Raith’s signing of rapist David Goodwillie have been well documented, followed by the announcement on Thursday that Goodwillie will not, in fact, play for Raith Rovers, with the board apologising for their decision to sign the 32-year-old.

The fall-out from the spectacularly ill-judged decision to sign the former Scotland international from Clyde has been incredible; from the withdrawal of all support from shirt sponsor Val McDermid, to countless resignations from the club including board members, employees, and women’s captain Tyler Rattray.

This is what prompted the furious back-pedalling from Raith just a few days ago.

Reading the club’s initial overtures announcing Goodwillie’s arrival, which lauded his footballing abilities, as well as the “experience he’ll pass on to other players”, you have to assume they were utterly blindsided by the reaction.

But how have we ended up here? How has it happened that football is still so far in the dark ages that so many within the sport recognise no significant issue with a rapist joining their club?

How many of these dinosaurs are left in men’s football? How long will it take to weed out every individual who sees no problem with not only signing a rapist but, in fact, lauding the acquisition and shouting about his merits and the value he will bring to their club?

These people who are so out of touch with reality are, almost always, men, although one of the most astonishing aspects of this story is that Raith’s chief executive is a woman, Karen Macartney.

Indeed, McDermid, on raising her displeasure with the rumours of the potential signing of Goodwillie a few days before it was finalised, says she was told by Macartney “the club has no interest in Goodwillie whatsoever. I agree with you, we shouldn’t sign someone like that”.

Either Macartney was lying, or she was overruled by others on the board. Whichever it was, she surely has to go. As do others who pushed this transfer through.

There were several people who saw this catastrophe coming with some board members resigning  shortly after the announcement of Goodwillie’s signing. But they, clearly, were outnumbered by others who saw no problem.

There were enough people in that boardroom who believed that being a rapist would be overlooked due to Goodwillie’s ability to put the ball in the back of the net.

How can a sport like football, which so often proclaims itself to be progressive, be so out of touch with the public mood?

The announcement that Goodwillie will not, in the end, play for the club, is, as former chairman, director and life-long supporter Bill Clark said, “too little, too late”.

He is spot on. The reversal of the decision is not enough to heal the wounds caused.

Women, and in particular, victims of rape and sexual abuse, have been shown to not matter, at least not as much as someone who can score goals.

I’m not always a subscriber to the theory that sportspeople should automatically be anointed as role models; just because they can run fast, jump high or kick a ball well doesn’t mean they are flawless people who automatically should bear the responsibility of having children look up to them.

But being an athlete is a  privileged position and in a case such as Goodwillie’s, there are no circumstances in which he should be granted the right to be a professional footballer.

This is not about prohibiting second chances.

Take David Martindale, the Livingston manager who was convicted of drugs and money-laundering offences in 2006 and served four years in prison.

He is the perfect example of someone who has taken responsibility for his crimes, accepted the consequences of his past actions and is doing everything in his power to not only reform himself but also use his  high-profile position to help others.

He has shown a level of self-awareness and humility that seems alien to Goodwillie, who continues to deny any wrongdoing and has shown not a shred of remorse for what happened to his victim, Denise Clair, even after losing the civil claim for damages against him.

There has been talk of Goodwillie being the victim of a witch hunt; let’s be clear, he is the victim of nothing.

Yes, Goodwillie has been the focus over the past week, but the question has to be how to change football to ensure this kind of misjudgment is never repeated, with powerful individuals within football clubs believing being a good footballer trumps any kind of abhorrent past behaviour.

Certainly, last week’s developments, and the strength of feeling shown by so many, will have shifted the balance.

But football still has some way to go before it can truly call itself a progressive sport.

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