John Sim has claimed his first instinct was to ‘close the club’ after it became apparent David Goodwillie would have no future at Raith Rovers.
In an exclusive interview with Courier Sport, the Rovers owner has expressed his sympathy for Goodwillie and described the backlash to his signing as ‘appalling’.
The former Scotland striker, branded a rapist by a civil court judge in 2017, joined Raith on January 31.
The Fifers paid a fee in the region of £50,000 and handed the player a contract until 2024.
Sponsor Val McDermid walked away from the club, directors Bill Clark and Andrew Mill resigned and the Ladies team severed all ties with the club. A swathe of volunteers also quit.
And Rovers were forced into a chastening U-turn, loaning Goodwillie back to Clyde a month later.
“I’m appalled by the reaction to it and, initially, my reaction was, ‘well, if he can’t play for the club, let’s close the club’,” said Sim. “I didn’t think it was fair.
“The guy has been playing at Clyde for years. He’s been coaching, been their captain and won player of the month awards.
“Surely you need to move on and let the guy pick up the pieces.
“How much do you punish someone? Since I’ve been knee-high to a grasshopper, I’ve believed in forgiving but not necessarily forgetting.
“I feel for David, and I feel for his wife and daughter.”
‘There are 41 other football teams’
Sim does wield that power.
He is the majority shareholder of the football club. He also runs Stark’s Park Properties Ltd, the separate entity which owns Rovers’ stadium. Sim’s control is, for all intents and purposes, absolute.
Nevertheless, he is keen to point out that the decision to sign Goodwillie was a collaborative one.
“There were seven people involved in the decision-making process and I was the chairman,” he continues.
“Could I have vetoed it? Yes. But you’ve got to back your people; the management team, the CEO and the people on the ground. Whatever people may think of me, I’m not a dictator.”
As such, many believed — and many still do — there should be consequences for those who voted in favour of Goodwillie’s signing: Steven MacDonald, commercial director Tom Morgan, company secretary David Sinton and Sim.
Susan Simpson has joined the board but Sim contends that has nothing to do with the Goodwillie debacle. It is a case of building a better HR infrastructure.
“I don’t think the board did anything wrong,” Sim continues, in spite of the public apologies made by the club.
“In retrospect, it might have been easier to do things differently. But I back my people, not Val McDermid or anyone else.”
For those disillusioned, angry fans who still feel unable to attend matches at Stark’s Park, Sim’s message is brusque.
“I respect their judgement — and there are 41 other football teams,” he continues.
A somewhat unfeeling attitude towards lifelong supporters, this reporter suggests.
“I’ve supported Raith Rovers all my life too, so why can’t we support Raith Rovers and accept that we have differing opinions?”
Sim describes talk of a Goodwillie-related financial black hole as ‘fake news’.
He claims the club are in a healthier position in terms of sponsorship than they were prior to the controversy.
Nevertheless, having publicly declared they will not field Goodwillie, Rovers are now faced with the prospect of annulling his contract — a costly proposition — or finding a buyer.
“I think we need to think about what he wants,” continues Sim. “As I understand it, because of the strain this has put on his wife and daughter, he doesn’t want to play in Scotland.
“But he wants to play football — so he will play somewhere. At the moment, Clyde are paying part of his wages.
“Firstly, legal obligations are legal obligations. Secondly, we’ve got two estimates in for immediate repairs to the North and South Stands coming in at £600,000.
“Paying one player isn’t a big deal in the big scheme of things.”
Asked whether any thought had been given to the well-being of Goodwillie’s victim, Denise Clair — not mentioned in any of Rovers’ public statements — he continued: “I am sorry she went through what she went through.
“I have sympathy for her. Both of them have paid dearly. If I could help her, I would, just as I’d try to help him.”
John McGlynn contract hint
Sim, slightly hangdog when discussing football matters, shows far more passion for his endeavours around the stadium and Kirkcaldy.
A Community Hub outside the stadium.
The Portakabin hospitality — to be christened ‘The Dugout’ — inside Stark’s Park.
The prospect of a new artificial pitch being laid, allowing Raith’s current surface to be transported to a yet-to-be-decided location and utilised as a training pitch and local resource.
Sim also dropped a major hint that manager John McGlynn could stay beyond the summer expiry of his contract — should he desire.
He added: “I talk to John frequently and my view is that we are happy he is here and we’re not looking for anybody else. Does John want to continue? I hope so.”