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Why do football clubs never make the easy decisions?

Raith Rovers and West Ham put points over pride

By Archie O'River

Photo courtesy of Daniel0685 via Flickr

Only on this crazy island could a news story about a dinky, community-driven Fife football club and a premier, London-based, top-class international brand-first and football-club-second dominate the news headlines day after day. Because this island loves football. Absolutely loves it. And you don’t need me to tell you that the UK’s love of football is often so unconditional and emotional that rational thinking and level heads fly out the window long before kick-off and long after the final whistle. And that’s not to say that I disagree with it all; an away-day weekend is a nice way to blow off some steam and catch up with your pals. Plus, it’s a super low-effort way to celebrate a little bit. You mean to tell me that these blokes on the pitch can put in all the hard work, all the training, resources and time, and I can celebrate too when they win games or titles? Celebrate harder, in fact? And I just need to stand there with maybe a replica strip or colour-block scarf at least? Count me in. Love it. But sometimes it goes too far.

A couple weeks ago the Kirkcaldy club, Raith Rovers FC, signed David Goodwillie from Clyde FC. The controversy sparked upon discovering the club’s blatant disregard towards the players background and character. In 2017, Goodwillie was ruled to be a rapist, and made to pay damages upfront in a civil case in Scotland. Although concerns were raised as to signing Goodwillie from sponsors and community trust members, the manager and board went ahead with it anyway—after having previously made it clear to the partners of the club that he was not in their sights. Is it hypocritical of the media and footballing community to not have raised the same uproar against Clyde? Yes, of course. But also, you can’t know what you don’t know. I wouldn’t blame anyone for not knowing about a relatively unknown player in League One in Scotland. Can you name any other players, or even clubs? Let alone a player’s background from those clubs? Me neither.

The deal with Raith Rovers only seemed to make the news headlines when Scottish crime author and sponsor of the team, Val McDermid, spoke out against the move and withdrew her support. The decision was easy for McDermid, despite a family history with a long tradition of supporting the club. But for the club itself? Not so much. Despite all the backlash they received, they decided to, unbelievably, double down and put out a statement defending their actions. They addressed the concerns about Goodwillie’s off-field behaviour but highlighted—and gave priority to—his on-field talent. I don’t know what was more crazy: the initial signing knowing full well that he was a controversial character or the continued support for the man. You can’t get people in Scotland to agree on anything, but from the borders to the islands, everyone seemingly agreed that it was the wrong move. If, as Nicola Sturgeon mirrored, the player has been rehabilitated and reflected on his actions and taken steps to improve himself, then that’s another story. However, that’s not the case here. Frankly, even if he did repent all his sins, I’d never have thought I’d see a club so dependent on community and sponsorship support sign someone like that.

As more sponsors pulled out and fans turned to boycotting the club, Raith Rovers announced that they wouldn’t play the striker. Embarrassing. I can’t help but think that these actions were taken only because the money pot started to dwindle. It’s not even like these lower league clubs are that well-off.

Does it matter, though? I think it’s the initial reaction to double down that is more telling.

Though I love animals, the case of Kurt Zouma at West Ham as of late isn’t as egregious as that of Raith Rovers’s David Goodwillie. But it still unravels the obsession that this country, but most predominantly clubs, have with winning at football. Clubs, of course, are businesses. Don’t forget that. And it’s not unlike businesses to put profit over morality.

Zouma was filmed the other night in a leaked video dropping, kicking and slapping one of his pet cats. Firstly, quite honestly, I cannot believe the reaction of the media. Incidents a thousand times worse than this happen everyday with total silence being reported. Is there nothing more important they can report on? It reminds me of that ‘cat bin woman’ from 2010 (gosh, I feel old saying that). But the media likes a good doggy pile, don’t we? Or… kitty pile? Anyway, though thankfully not as bad, in my eyes, as being a rapist—though it’s clear that animals obviously deserve moral considerations, but it would be ridiculous to make this link—West Ham pulled a similar tactic. I don’t know what the odds were for Zouma starting that night, but I reckon it would’ve been a safe bet to say he wouldn’t’ve. However, West Ham decided to start him. With a similar excuse of ‘his footballing abilities outweigh his off-field actions’. Although the club has disciplined the player, and the authorities have taken appropriate action against him as well, it tells the same story: if you’re good enough at football, you can get away with anything. But again, I suspect it’s only once the money starts slipping away that the club will take stronger actions (which is slowly happening with Vitality’s sponsor pull). Actions like these should be absolutely condemned, especially by football clubs who have a role in their local communities whether they like it or not. You’ve got to realise, who are footballers most idealised by? Children.


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