Raith Rovers rapist debacle shows football’s misogyny

Ian King
Raith Rovers Starks Park

Raith Rovers’ decision to sign the rapist David Goodwillie, and their reaction when faced with criticism, is football’s misogyny incarnate.


To call it a failure to read the room would be about the grossest possible understatement. The decision of Raith Rovers to sign David Goodwillie – a rapist if not a convicted rapist – is a shaming blight on a club with a long and proud history, which has lifted silverware and played European football, and which sits at the centre of the community in Kirkcaldy, the town it calls home.

But this story is also turning into something else, because the reaction of the community surrounding the club has been such that it may just represent a sea-change in attitudes among supporters, sponsors and the wider public when football clubs act as though they have no responsibilities beyond the confines of a football pitch. Kirkcaldy is a town of 50,000 people. It’s not a big city, and they’re proud of their local football club. And they’ve proved it since this story broke.

Goodwillie can be described as ‘a rapist if not a convicted rapist’ because this is, well, a correct legal definition. Goodwillie was accused of raping Denise Clair (who waived her right to anonymity in 2013 to proceed with the case) in August 2011 along with another player, David Robertson, but following an investigation, the police did not press charges because they considered there to be ‘insufficient evidence’ to proceed.

Undeterred, Clair took the matter to a civil case where, under the lower burden of proof of a civil case, Lord Armstrong ruled in January 2017 that, because of her ‘excessive intake of alcohol and, because her cognitive functioning and decision-making processes were so impaired’ that she ‘was incapable of giving meaningful consent, and that they each raped her’ and ordered them to pay her £100,000 in damages.

They lost an appeal against the verdict in November of the same year. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority also determined Ms Clair had been raped despite the failure to prosecute Goodwillie and awarded her £11,000. Of Goodwillie, Lord Armstrong said: “My general impression was that, particularly in relation to his assessment of the pursuer’s condition, his evidence was given with a view to his own interests rather than in accordance with the oath which he had taken. I did not find his evidence to be persuasive.”

This wasn’t the first time that Goodwillie had found himself in court, either. He was convicted of assault twice, in 2008 and 2012, picking up a £250 fine, a 12-month probation order and 80 hours of unpaid work for his troubles. None of this or the accusations made against him in 2011 had affected the upward trajectory of his career in any way whatsoever, but Lord Armstrong’s ruling did.

Goodwillie had started his playing career with Dundee United, before moving on to play for Blackburn Rovers and Aberdeen before signing for Plymouth Argyle in June 2016. He left by mutual consent in January of the following year, when the first verdict was announced. Goodwillie was offered a short-term contract to the end of the season by Clyde, just two months after leaving Plymouth, and although the matter caused anger at the time, he remained with the club until the end of this January transfer window.

Coming the day after the accusations against the Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood and their accompanying very public evidence, Raith’s decision looks even more tin-eared than it might otherwise have done, all the more so when we consider that Raith’s shirts are sponsored by the feminist crime writer Val McDermid, who also has a stand named after her at their Starks Park ground.

McDermid’s response to this decision was justifiably furious. ‘The thought of the rapist David Goodwillie running out on the pitch at Starks Park in a @RaithRovers shirt with my name on it makes me feel physically sick’, she wrote on Twitter, adding that she had ‘ended my lifelong support’ of the club over the signing, and that she had cancelled next season’s shirt sponsorship ‘over this disgusting and despicable move’. The signing ‘shatters any claim to be a community or family club’, and that Goodwillie’s presence was a ‘stain on the club’. ‘Goodwillie has never expressed a shred of remorse for the rape he committed’, she said, concluding that his signing was ‘a heartbreaker for me and many other fans’.

She wasn’t the only person deeply offended by Raith’s decision. Tyler Rattray, the captain of their women’s team, also confirmed that she had quit in protest, tweeting that, ‘After 10 long years playing for Raith, it’s gutting I have given up now because they have signed someone like this and I want nothing to do with it!’ Others in the team have since followed.

The matter has snowballed from there. Supporter liaison officer Margie Robertson, stadium announcer Johnny MacDonald, and Marie Penman, the employability project delivery officer with the club’s community foundation, have also left their positions, while it has also emerged that two directors, Bill Clark and Andy Mill, voted against the signing at a board meeting and resigned when they were outvoted by the other four.

This hasn’t just been contained to those involved in the running of the club, either. Supporters, outraged by their club’s decision, piled into the replies on Raith’s Twitter post announcing the signing, making it absolutely clear where they stand on the matter, while a JustGiving page for Rape Crisis, set up by supporters, has raised more than £7,000 at the time of writing. Meanwhile, the story is making national news headlines both in Scotland and across the UK. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made a statement on the matter.

With social media starting to groan under the weight of content about Raith Rovers, the club’s remaining directors eventually released a statement which seemed almost wilful in its ignorance of the offence the club has caused and which ended with a line of spectacular point-missing that their pig-headed decision to push the transfer through in the first place starts to make sense: ‘First and foremost, this was a football-related decision.’ It’s not exactly certain what they mean by this. Are they expecting applause for not signing him because he’s a rapist?

Goodwillie was at Starks Park on the evening that it all blew up, watching Raith’s draw with Queen of the South, so the best guess is that all concerned are going to try to brazen it out. But this is a big mistake. A petition has already reached more than 2,000 signatures to have Goodwillie ‘removed from Raith Rovers’. The problem is, how to do this legally? Contract law is contract law, and while what action the club could legally take would ultimately be determined by its terms and conditions, it would be highly unusual for them to be able to cancel Goodwillie’s contract unilaterally. Their options, were they to change their minds, would be to try to sell him (good luck with that), pay his contract up in full, refuse to pay him, or sack him and say ‘see you in court’.

While the last of these might be the most superficially appealing, legally speaking the club would be on extremely thin ice. Procedures have to be followed. Contracts have to be honoured, and if Raith lost such a case in court, legal fees would only increase. His wage is likely to be in the region of £1,000-£1,500 per week – this is a guestimate figure based on these figures, the veracity of which I can’t speak for but are in the region of what I’d expect in the SPFL Championship, the Scottish second tier – and he signed a two-and-a-half year contract. If he were on £1,000 per week, he’d be due £130,000. For a club whose attendances are usually between 1,500 and 2,000, that’s a lot of money.

But all of this overlooks the truly fundamental point, which is that a horrendous action committed upon a human being is at the heart of this story. Raith Rovers’ beyond-disgraceful response to the damage they’ve caused to both their club and their community should be a permanent stain, not on the club, its supporters or its community, but on those who made the decision to hire a rapist and then, when it inevitably blew up in their faces, issued a public statement effectively saying, ‘yeah, but he’s really good at football’.

When people talk about football’s issue with ‘toxic masculinity’, this right here is exactly what they mean. It isn’t just that men rape women, though that is heinous enough on its own. It’s also that we make obtaining justice difficult to impossible for them afterwards, that we dismiss their claims or become forensic detectives when we hear of them, trying to pick holes in them, and make jokes about it. We demean the women’s game at every turn, despite having banned it for half a century. It’s because we do things like signing rapist footballers in the full knowledge of what the reaction will be and then doubling-down and implying that what he did is irrelevant because of football.

Whether we’re talking about allegations of rape, or domestic violence, or any of the other crimes that men commit against women, will the game have a day of reckoning over this culture which acts very much as though it hates women, and reach a tipping point at which it stops saying it’ll do better and actually start doing better? When will it have an open and honest conversation about the misogyny that runs through the game, and which has for as long as as it has existed?

Well, it didn’t over Paul Gascoigne. It didn’t over Cristiano Ronaldo. It didn’t over Ryan Giggs. It didn’t over Reece Thompson. It didn’t over Jerome Boateng, Adam Johnson or Tyrell Robinson. And this is what happened to a woman who refused to pay tribute to Diego Maradona after he died. Perhaps it will, this time. In the meantime, Raith Rovers will have to count the cost of their stupid, thoughtless decision, and women will have to continue to count the cost of the violence that men perpetrate upon them.