David Goodwillie: Scottish football’s most contentious transfer

8 mins read

Eight months ago, Raith Rovers Football Club were plunged into public scrutiny after unveiling the controversial signing of David Goodwillie, opening the darkest chapter of the clubs 138-year history.

On September 30, the Scottish Championship outfit announced the termination of Goodwillie’s contact at long last, with the short following statement:

‘The club can confirm that David Goodwillie has been released from his contract with immediate effect. The club will make no further comment.’

However, is this a suitable explanation to a fanbase who have been left feeling angry and disappointed by the ordeal?

The controversy stems from when Goodwillie was found guilty of rape in the civil court alongside teammate David Robertson in 2017, with the pair having to pay £100,000 in charges. Goodwillie – a Stirling native – had been enjoying a successful career until this juncture, featuring for clubs such as Dundee United, Aberdeen and even the Scottish national team.

The striker’s career had already been tarnished by controversy off the field, with three separate assault charges on his record between 2008-2010, including an incident at Stirling nightclub Dusk.

His civil conviction caused for him to be released by Plymouth with immediate effect.

Despite his playing career appearing to be at an end, Goodwillie was surprisingly picked up by relegation threatened Clyde two months later. A small degree of commotion was raised at the time, however Goodwillie signed and featured for Clyde on 176 occasions, captaining the side over a five-year period – as he played under the radar, at a level far below his ability.

Goalscoring strikers are a rare commodity in the lower leagues of Scottish football and many a manager would’ve glanced a watchful eye at Goodwillie’s abilities and pondered his signing. But common sense prevailed, with no club wishing to associate themselves with the forward… until Raith Rovers came calling.

Following on from a strong start to the season, Raith Rovers had picked up a few concerning results in early January and struck gold when they were drew away to Celtic in the cup, with a 50% gate cut and a reported £30,000 in TV money to suit. The Championship side then took the shock decision to sign Goodwillie for an undisclosed fee on the January transfer deadline.

Even if senior figures at the club were prepared for backlash, nothing could’ve prepared them for the reaction that ensued.

Raith Rovers rarely make back-page news, let alone front. However this news plunged them into headline news across Britain and beyond, with journalists coming from as far as the USA to report for channels such as CNN.

Credit for the degree of outcry must go to the supporters of Raith Rovers, who refused to sit back and turn a blind eye like others before.

Renowned author and Rovers supporter Val McDermid was vocal with her distain, publicly pulling her support and long standing sponsorship from the club. She also later claimed to the BBC that chief executive Karen Macartney had assured her that the club would not peruse the deal in the proceeding weeks, when raising her concerns over the rumours.

Meanwhile, Raith Rovers Women cut all ties with the club – later rebranding as ‘McDermid Ladies’ – and tens of hardworking, crucial volunteers left at a rapid rate. Popular Supporter’s Director Andy Mill and Liaison Officer Margie Robertson also stood down from their roles, confounding a brutal few days in Kirkcaldy.

This was amplified after both Nicola Sturgeon and former PM Gordon Brown (the latter of whom a lifelong Raith supporter) slammed the club in the press for their actions.  

Many expected an immediate back track from the club, however in puzzling fashion, they initially appeared to double down on their decision with a controversial statement.

However, four days on, the club pulled a U-turn and eventually announced that Goodwillie will never feature and issued an apology, with the memo ‘we got it wrong’ in bold, being simply signed off – ‘Chairman’.

In the months to come, Clyde agreed a deal to take Goodwillie back on loan for the rest of the season. However, due to the recent public outcry, they also decided against deploying the striker and he failed to make another appearance in Scottish football.

Ultimately, numerous figures were held accountable and departed the club over the summer, alongside long serving manager John McGlynn – who seemed to play an instrumental role in the deal.

Yet, John Sim, the Thailand based owner and former chairman of the club, once again doubled down on the signing, when he told the Courier that he was ‘appalled’ by the backlash. He also contentiously hinted that supporters could take their support elsewhere by stating ‘I respect their judgement — and there are 41 other football teams’.

Visibly and understandably, everyone involved with the club wish to move on from the ordeal. With a big Challenge Cup win in March and new management team in the door, reason for optimism has returned to Kirkcaldy, but the actions of a small group of individuals at the top of the club cannot be forgotten in the wider context.

The transfer of David Goodwillie has been slammed by the vast majority of the Scottish footballing community, as clubs continue to make strides to make football a safer place both for women and the children who look up to first-team players as crucial role models. For Raith Rovers, the five-figure transfer fee and two-and-a-half-year contract buy-out was a crippling financial burden, but the societal repercussions upon their reputation and community had the greatest impact of all.

Raith Rovers’ recent statement was short and to the point. So is this a suitable explanation to quarters of the fanbase who feel as if they deserve answers? Or is it best for the club to simply move and make amends, as they have over recent months?

Ultimately, the main relief is that David Goodwillie has no association with Raith Rovers anymore, so that any supporters who stood away can begin to build bridges with the club again. If we look for one silver lining, then it must be that we as football fans have opened a wider discussion, as we continue to make strides in making Scottish football a safer, inclusive and more inviting space for all going forward.

Feature image credit: The Courier/BBC

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