David Goodwillie will not play for Raith Rovers again after the club apologised for his controversial signing.
Raith’s decision to re-sign 32-year-old Goodwillie – who was ruled to be a rapist in a civil court case in 2017 although no criminal proceedings were instructed – had generated widespread criticism.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called on the Scottish Professional Football League to take action, the club’s main sponsor, author Val McDermid – whose name is on the club’s shirts and one of its stands – withdrew her support and an online petition was set up calling for Goodwillie to be removed.
Raith released a statement on Tuesday defending the decision to sign Goodwillie, but on Thursday new chairman John Sim admitted “the club got it wrong”.
A statement from Sim on behalf of the board said: “I firstly want to apologise wholeheartedly to our fans, sponsors, players and the wider Raith Rovers community for the anguish and anger caused over the past few days.
“We got it wrong.
“In reaching our original decision, we focused far too much on football matters and not enough on what this decision would mean for our club and the community as a whole.
“Over the past couple of days, we listened carefully to the fans who have got in touch and I’m very grateful for their honesty. As chairman, as a board and as a management team, we have all learned a hard but valuable lesson.
“This very unfortunate episode is something that we all bitterly regret and we are now wholly committed to making things right. I can therefore confirm that, following a meeting of the Raith Rovers board, the player will not be selected by Raith Rovers and we will enter into discussions with the player regarding his contractual position.
“We share a desire to do what is best for our club and will be doing everything in our power to regain the trust and confidence of the Raith Rovers family.”
The decision was welcomed by McDermid, who wrote on Twitter: “I welcome this (unsigned) statement from Raith Rovers. It’s a victory of sorts for the hundreds of people who MAKE the club who were appalled at the board’s original decision and who were not afraid to speak out.
“But it’s the first step on a long road back. The same people who made the decision are still in charge. Those who love and value the club are still on the outside; they need to be on the inside, shaping the future for the community.”
‘Raith Rovers board must resign’
Former Raith Rovers chairman Bill Clark, who quit his role as director after Goodwillie’s signing, says the club’s board must now resign.
Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports News after the club’s U-turn, Clark said: “It is, I think, too little too late. The reaction to it has been phenomenal. It’s going to take a long time to rebuild the reputation of the club.
“I think the financial situation might be difficult but I think the club can get over that eventually. But the damage to the reputation is the main thing that I’m concerned about.”
Asked if he believed the board should now quit, Clark said: “Personally, I have to admit, yes. I would go along with what the majority of the supporters say.
“A lot of people – and I mean a lot – are saying the people who made the original decision should go, because if that’s the standard of leadership and management and adherence to the morals and values of Raith Rovers, then that’s not good. They should go.”
Clark said the signing of Goodwillie was approved during a meeting on Monday, and that the Raith board was warned that the reaction to the deal from supporters and the local community would not be positive.
I have this morning ended my lifelong support of @RaithRovers over their signing of the rapist David Goodwillie. I have cancelled next season’s shirt sponsorship over this disgusting and despicable move. This shatters any claim to be a community or family club. 1/2
— Val McDermid (@valmcdermid) February 1, 2022
“It was made clear at the board meeting on Monday morning what kind of reaction there would be from the supporters and from the community, and that’s been proved right,” Clark said. “So on behalf of them, I’m pleased that this has happened this way.
“There was only two of us who pointed out the possible reactions from the community and the supporters, but we were outvoted.
“We were in a really good position in terms of our relationship with the fans and the community. There was a real feel-good factor around the club, which as soon as pen was put to paper on Monday, all disappeared.”
Raith Rovers ‘tarnished’ by Goodwillie signing
Aileen Campbell, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Football, echoed Sturgeon’s comments on Wednesday and said the Kirkcaldy club had made a “badly misjudged” decision to sign Goodwillie which had “tarnished” Raith Rovers’ reputation and could have “devastating consequences” for female players.
Tyler Rattray, the captain of Raith’s women’s team, also quit in protest, along with others at the club, while former Prime Minister and Raith Rovers fan Gordon Brown made clear he did not support Goodwillie’s signing.
In an interview with BBC Scotland, Campbell, a former communities secretary in the Scottish Government, said Raith’s decision to sign Goodwillie had been a poor one and “sent the wrong signal, message, to society and particularly to women”.
Scottish Women’s Football has “offered support to the women’s club and the women’s team to make sure we can help them through this”, Campbell added.
Raith Rovers signed Goodwillie despite a court ruling in a civil case in 2017 that he and now retired player David Robertson had raped a woman.
The two men were ordered to pay damages of £100,000 to the woman, but no criminal charges were brought against either of them. The club had insisted the signing was “first and foremost… a football-related decision”.
In a statement on Tuesday defending the move, the club described Goodwillie as a “proven goalscorer” whose footballing ability will help “strengthen the Raith Rovers playing squad”.
But Campbell said: “We can’t shy away from the fact it is a privilege to work in football and football has real influence and sway, particularly over young fans, and that is why this decision feels poor.
“It does have impact. We can concentrate on the actions on the pitch, but we can’t shy away from the fact that football has huge influence off the pitch as well. We should endeavour to make sure that influence is a positive one.”
She added that the support for McDermid and Rattray – with Sturgeon praising their stance – shows “society doesn’t want to accept violence against women”.
Campbell said of Raith Rovers: “Given they have lost the support of high-profile fans, Val McDermid, that they have lost the captain of the women’s team, they have lost volunteers, they have lost fans, they have lost staff, they really do need to think about whether this has been worth it.
“It is a badly misjudged decision by the club and we as an organisation are particularly concerned about losing more women from the game, a game we have worked so hard to try to build up and to encourage more girls and women to try to take part in, that would be a devastating consequence of this.”
She added: “That’s a huge thing for a club, particularly a club like Raith Rovers. They can’t separate that societal impact away from what happens on the pitch, football has huge influence and we need to ensure that influence is there as a force for good.”
Judy Hamilton, chair of Raith’s community foundation, felt the signing had undone the club’s work to promote itself as a safe and family-friendly club.
She said: “God only knows we need a striker. However, this particular striker – of all the strikers in the world – was the wrong decision. He comes with quite a lot of baggage and I don’t believe that had been risk-assessed or that the community feeling had really been taken on board.
“That is disappointing because Raith Rovers is a family club and we are very proud of our women and girls and the work we have done and we feel that it has been undone in the stroke of a pen.”
Neil Sinclair, head of the girls and women’s section at Raith Rovers community club, said in a statement on Twitter: “We fully condemn the decision and actions made by Raith Rovers Football Club at the start of this week.
“We sincerely thank everyone for the messages and offers of support. Our full focus is now towards supporting the 140+ women and girls who wish to continue to play football.
“The players and officials of the Women’s team will not be making any further comment at this time and request that they are allowed to focus on playing the sport that they love.”