The Goodwillie Circus and How This Can Be Avoided Going Forward

JANUARY 30 2022, David Goodwillie was the captain of Clyde FC. He’d been at the club since March 2017 and went about his business quietly as he helped the club to promotion from League Two and consolidated their place in League One.

That form attracted the interest of Championship side Raith Rovers, who signed him the next day on a two and a half year deal to bolster their hopes of winning promotion to the Premiership. On paper, it looks a smart signing.

There was one sticking point – Goodwillie had a rape conviction!

Although there was a lack of evidence to convict him in a criminal court, a civil judge ruled in 2016 that he and fellow former Dundee United man David Robertson raped Denise Clair in 2011. The duo appealed the verdict but it was upheld by three independent judges and were ordered to pay the victim £100,000 in damages.

This verdict was enough for club sponsor Val McDermid to warn Raith CEO Karen Macartney that she would withdraw her financial backing of the club, and numerous fans groups also voiced their disapproval of the move. Their grievances fell on deaf ears as four directors voted in favour of sanctioning the signing of Goodwillie with disastrous consequences.

McDermid withdrew her sponsorship, the two directors who voted against the move resigned, politicians including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon spoke out against the decision, the women’s team walked away to reform as McDermid Ladies, several club staff and volunteers resigned, and fans began cutting up their season tickets. Meanwhile, the club remained defiant, insisting that his footballing ability was the foremost consideration behind their decision to sign him. However, amidst the backlash and fears of financial meltdown, they made a dramatic U-turn 48 hours later, highlighting that they got it wrong, and that they would enter discussions with Goodwillie over his contractual position.

The next move was expected to see a statement from Raith Rovers that David Goodwillie would be released from his contract and that the moving on process would begin. It was, therefore, somewhat of a surprise that it was announced four weeks later that the striker would return to Clyde on loan until the end of the season. Returning to a club where he was accepted after the conviction was a move that both clubs thought would bring an end to this sorry saga.

Wrong!

Unlike March 2017, Clyde’s re-signing of the three times capped Scotland International was met with huge disapproval from the wider community. The entire Clyde Women’s team collectively resigned, the First Minister condemned the move, and North Lanarkshire Council banned Goodwillie from Broadwood Stadium whilst giving the Bully Wee a years eviction notice in the process. The sorry process resulted in Clyde cancelling the loan agreement after just two days.

The past month has, without doubt been one of the most controversial stories in Scottish Football history. Whilst Raith Rovers signing of David Goodwillie was rightly condemned by a wide range of people from fellow fans to politicians, from sponsors and directors to Women’s support groups, there are people out there who, understandably, ask why the fuss now over a player who has had the conviction for more than five years.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, there are not many of us who can say back in March 2017 when David Goodwillie signed for Clyde that they spoke out against the signing. In fact, it’s fair to say that the issue quickly got swept under the carpet, and Bully Wee fans by enlarge revelled in their new man scoring goals for fun. As a podcaster, I’m just as guilty and recall an episode of SFF being titled “Bad Cock screws the bet” as a piss take of Goodwillie scoring a goal that cost us a charity bet win. On reflection, we as a podcast should’ve been condemning the move as vocally as we did when Raith Rovers signed the player, and the mainstream media were also guilty of turning a blind eye at the time.

There are also people who say that Goodwillie should be allowed to rehabilitate, and there’s two points to this. Firstly, playing football at senior level is NOT the place for people with a rape conviction, whether through criminal court or civil action, to go through rehabilitation. Whether they like it or not, footballers are role models for younger fans, and it is not a good example to allow someone who has committed such a violent crime against a woman to be allowed to walk back into football. If David Goodwillie wants to rehabilitate, it should be away from the public eye doing a regular job.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Goodwillie has never shown any remorse to his victim. There has never been an apology to Denise Clair, and he’s managed to squirm his way out of paying her the damages she was due by declaring himself bankrupt, with fellow culprit Robertson, who has since retired, doing the same. How can anyone who has shown no remorse be rehabilitated? It can be argued that he is maintaining his innocence but the fact of the matter is he is a convicted rapist, albeit only by a civil court hearing and not holding a criminal conviction, and he needs to accept the consequences of his actions. The fact he stands to get a payoff of more than £150,000 just rubs salt into the wounds, and he is entitled to it as a result of Raith Rovers stupidity to give him a two and a half year deal at the age of 32.

If there’s one thing that is to come out of this sorry mess then it is the hope that a change in the law will stop footballers with a rape conviction from re-entering the game. The minute they commit this awful crime on an individual they lose their privileges that come with being a footballer. There may not be such a thing as the perfect role model in football, and every footballer has their flaws, but there has to be a line as to what is acceptable, and rape is completely unacceptable.

What we should all have learned from the David Goodwillie story is that we should not sweep the issue of rape under the carpet because a player happens to be quite decent at football. We need to condemn such a move early doors and nip it in the bud, no matter how big the club are. The fact Clyde are a part time club and Raith Rovers are full time with a bigger fan base doesn’t make the signing of a rapist any more unacceptable. It was unacceptable in 2017, and it’s equally unacceptable now, the difference is more people, particularly women, have found their voice to speak out, and should be applauded for doing so.

As for those defending David Goodwillie and the sudden treatment he’s been receiving, spare a thought for Denise Clair, the real victim in this sorry saga.

J Bleasdale

I am a football fan with a passion for writing, briefly studied journalism before other priorities got in the way. Enjoy blogging as its my way of expressing my thoughts on Scottish Football. Even though I'm an Aberdeen fan primarily, I'm happy to express my impartial views on other clubs.